In Rare Show of Force, U.S. Air Force Blends B-2 and B-52 Bombers
Long-range training mission could be a warning to Russia
The U.S. Air Force routinely sends its heavy bombers on long-range training missions “to ensure the U.S. has a credible capability to respond to a variety of levels of threats,” according to the flying branch.
Still, it’s not every day that two hulking B-52s and two stealthy B-2s fly together in a synchronized, simulated attack. The Air Force launched two 1960s-vintage B-52s from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana along with two radar-evading B-2s from Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base—and sent all four on a coordinated attack run over the Pacific Ocean on April 2.
The training mission coincided with Russia’s mostly bloodless annexation of Ukraine strategic Crimean peninsula. That’s probably not a coincidence. Washington and its European allies have strengthened their military postures as a deterrent against further Russian aggression.
The strategic bombers flew non-stop for more than 20 hours, each traveling no fewer than 8,000 miles from their home stations in order to drop live ordnance on targets inside Hawaii’s Pohakuloa bombing range.
The training mission included a “low approach,” according to the Air Force. Bombers traditionally fly at high altitude to maximize their fuel efficiency and the range of their weaponry. The advent of deadly surface-to-air missiles during the Cold War briefly forced the giant warplanes to fly lower as a means of avoiding radar detection.
The Air Force is reviving the practice as it prepares to battle well-equipped foes such as Iran, Russia and China.
The Hawaii run is not the first time the Pentagon has expressed its resolve by way of bombers. Last year, the Air Force sent B-2s on extended deterrence missions over the Korean peninsula following North Korean president Kim Jong Un’s threats against Washington and Seoul.
What makes the recent bomber training particularly interesting is its blend of two very different warplane types. The B-52 is a tough, flexible, cheap-to-operate workhorse that’s anything but stealthy.
The much more modern—and expensive—B-2 carries fewer different weapons but can elude radar detection thanks to its special shape and coatings. Working together, the bombers presumably emphasized their relative strengths in payload, sensors, munitions and stealthiness.
Not to be outdone, Moscow has just announced its intention to base swing-wing Tu-22M bombers in Crimea. A Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman told the Interfax news agency that the Kremlin would establish a “missile-carrying regiment” near the city of Simferopol, according to Jane’s Defense Weekly.
Bombers flying from Crimea could range over the Black Sea and all of Eastern Europe. “The need for [the Tu-22Ms] in the southern direction was always there, but now there are just the right conditions for them to return to the Crimea, which used to be called an unsinkable aircraft carrier,” the spokesman said, according to Jane’s.
A new Cold War is heating up and long-range bomber missions could become more frequent … on both sides.