America is sending three nuclear-capable bombers to Russia’s borders to participate in a military exercise near the Baltics and Poland.
On Friday, U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) announced that three B-52 Stratofortresses were being sent on a short-term deployment to the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Fairford, United Kingdom. They will be joined by two B-2s.
During the deployment, however, the three B-52 bombers will “conduct training flights with ground and naval forces around the region and participate in multinational Exercises BALTOPS 15 and SABER STRIKE 15 over international waters in the Baltic Sea and the territory of the Baltic states and Poland,” STRATCOM said in a press release.
It went on to explain: “The bombers will integrate into several exercise activities, including air intercept training, simulated mining operations during SABER STRIKE, inert ordnance drops during BALTOPS, and close air support.”
SABER STRIKE is an annual exercise the United States has held with European allies since 2010. The purpose of the exercise is to coordinate the United States’ providing close air support to European ground forces.
According to the U.S. Army Europe’s website, this year’s exercise will include participants from Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, the U.S. Army Europe has indicated that particularly close attention will be given to integrating U.S. forces with those from Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland, and the exercises themselves will also take place inside those countries.
BALTOPS is a U.S.-led primarily maritime exercise held with NATO allies and other European partners every year. This year, the 43rd annual BALTOPS exercise is taking place between June 5-20 in in Poland, Sweden, Germany, and throughout the Baltic Sea. The participants in year’s BALTOPS exercise include Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The U.S. Navy has previously said that roughly “5,600 ground, maritime and air forces from participating nations will conduct air defense, maritime interdiction, anti-subsurface warfare, and amphibious operations in a joint environment.” It has also noted that, “A total of 49 ships, 61 aircraft, one submarine, and a combined landing force of 700 Swedish, Finnish, and U.S. troops are scheduled to participate.”
News that the bombers will participate in SABER STRIKE and the BALTOPS come as the United States tries to ratchet up pressure against Russia.
On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter convened a meeting in Germany with U.S. military commanders and fourteen ambassadors to discuss how to deal with Russia. The meeting included about 40 individuals, according to press reports, including the heads of the the Department of Defense’s Africa, Pacific, Middle East, special operations and cyber commands. Following that meeting, Carter told reporters that the United States plans to step up the number of military exercises it conducts in Europe in order to enhance preparedness.
Increasing pressure against Russia was also expected to be President Obama’s top priority during the G7 meeting held in Germany on Sunday and Monday. A joint communique issued by the G7 leaders warned that “We ... stand ready to take further restrictive measures in order to increase cost on Russia should its actions so require.” Obama separately accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of harboring a “wrongheaded desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire.”
A lengthy report from the Wall Street Journal this weekend also said the Obama administration is having internal discussions about various deterrence strategies it may adopt to deal with Russia in Europe. According to the report, some of the measures being debated include stepped up military exercises and more pre-positioning of weapons stocks near Russia’s borders.
The deployment of the B-52s also comes as Russia has stepped up the numbers of bombers it has sent into U.S. airspace. Adm. William Gortney, the chief of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), told the Washington Times on Monday that the number of Russian incursions into U.S. airspace in 2014 was double the average dating back to 2006.
Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.
Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Horstman