A pair of B-1B Lancers from Ellsworth Air Force Base conducted a long-range strategic Bomber Task Force mission in the European theater May 19, marking the first time B-1s have flown over Sweden to integrate with Swedish Gripens while conducting close-air support training with Swedish Joint Terminal Attack Controller ground teams at Vidsel Range.
The nonstop mission to the Nordic region – made possible with support from a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom, and a Dutch KDC-10 from the 334th Squadron, Royal Netherlands Air Force’s Eindhoven Air Base, Netherlands – spanned more than 23 hours.
“This was a great opportunity to operate in new territory, and clearly demonstrates the flexibility, credibility, and the lethality of our nation’s bomber force,” said. Col. David Doss, 28th Bomb Wing commander. “Operations like this enhance our readiness and ensure we are ready to respond to any contingency or challenge across the globe.”
During the flight, the B-1s were escorted by RAF Typhoons over the United Kingdom. Additionally, the B-1s integrated with Norwegian F-35s to fly tactical sorties and conduct a low-approach over Ørland Air Station, Norway. Ørland Air Station is the home of the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s recently operational F-35 fleet.
“Long-range bomber training missions strengthen our steadfast partnerships with allies across both Europe and Africa and showcase our ability to respond globally from anywhere,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander. “This mission further enhances our interoperability capabilities by taking groundbreaking steps to incorporate our partners to generate seamless operations.”
Lt. Col. Thomas Taylor, commander of the 34th Bomb Squadron, noted that these missions provide B-1 aircrews with the rare opportunity to integrate with NATO and other partner nation forces they may work with in future conflicts.
“While preparing for these missions, our aircrew plan a tactical scenario with mission leads from all participants and learn the capabilities and limitations of unfamiliar air assets. During execution, the aircrew will fly the plan against simulated threats and refine integration tactics that we will utilize in the future.”
He added that these missions are the culmination of weeks of planning and coordination between BTF planners, U.S. European Command, USAFE, the 608th Air Operations Center, and the 28th Operations Support Squadron who take EUCOM commander objectives and build a mission to meet those objectives.
“The complex coordination includes scheduling multiple air-to-air refuelings, long-range communication, and tactical integration with NATO and other partner nation aircraft to get B-1s from Ellsworth (AFB) to Europe and back,” he said. Another big benefit of the long duration missions is exposing aircrews to the physical and mental challenges of flying from home to employ weapons in areas of responsibility around the world, something the 34th BS has proven effective in doing in the past.
On March 27, 2011, the 34th BS flew the first B-1 combat mission launched from the U.S. to strike overseas targets when it participated in Operation Odyssey Dawn, flying nonstop from Ellsworth AFB to strike targets in Libya.
“A typical B-1 training sortie lasts three to five hours and might include one air-to-air refueling,” Taylor said. “These long duration sorties last over 24 hours and include four air-to-air refuelings as well as multiple tactical training scenarios with air and ground forces from partner nations. In future wars, the enemy may not afford us the luxury of staging from a base only a few hours from the target area. These sorties train our aircrew to be just as lethal on a 24-hour combat mission as they are on a three-hour training mission.”