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B-52 Bombers Arrive in Europe for Integration Exercises and Training

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The U.S. Air Force has sent B-52 Stratofortress bombers to the United Kingdom for strategic missions in Europe, according to the service.

A “bomber task force” arrived at RAF Fairford on Thursday from the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa (USAFE) said in a release.

Up to six of the long-range bombers are expected to arrive before the weekend, a source told Military.com on background. It marks the largest deployment of one bomber platform to Europe since the command had nearly 20 bombers on the ramp at Fairford in 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the source said.

The command has had a bomber rotation at least once a year as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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The Pentagon sent two B-2 Spirits and three B-52s to Europe that year for similar training events days after then-President Barack Obama announced he would increase the U.S. military presence in the region in what appeared to be a response to Russia’s actions. Since then, the bomber variants — including the B-1B Lancer — have operated in European airspace alongside NATO allies.

The latest deployment will test how the bombers can conduct missions out of Fairford, with the airfield acting as USAFE’s forward operating location for the heavy aircraft, the release said.

“The deployment also includes joint and allied training in the U.S. European Command theater to improve bomber interoperability,” according to the release. “Training with joint partners, allied nations and other U.S. Air Force units contributes to our ready and postured forces and enables us to build enduring and strategic relationships necessary to confront a broad range of global challenges.”

USAFE did not disclose how long the bombers will remain in theater.

Meanwhile, U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees strategic deterrence and global strike capabilities, including the B-52 mission, kicked off its annual command-and-control (C2) exercise this week to support EUCOM, officials said in a separate release.

“Global Lightning 2019” is a battle staff exercise designed to train Defense Department forces “to integrate and synchronize efforts,” in this case with EUCOM and other participating commands, the release states.

The C2 exercise includes personnel from a variety of nations, including foreign liaison officers from Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, officials said.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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