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  • Mike Lintott-Danks

Bomber Task Force 20-4 'BUFFs are back'

On the morning of Saturday the 22nd August 2020 six B-52H Stratofortress’ from the 23rd Bomb Squadron (BS), Minot AB, North Dakota appeared over the skies of Gloucestershire in the early morning sunrise. Their arrival had been relatively unknown to the majority in the aviation community. This had been mainly due to the lack of support flights, that usually arrive in the preceding days before the bombers deploy. These six aircraft formed were part of the Bomber Task Force (BTF) 20-4.

The aircraft arrived in pairs, using callsigns TORE 51 – 56, performing run and breaks overhead the large Gloucestershire base. A press release from the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE) stated “B-52s are back at RAF Fairford, and will be operating across the theatre in what will be a very active deployment. Our ability to quickly respond and assure allies and partners rests upon the fact that we are able to deploy our B-52s at a moment’s notice,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Commander. “Their presence here helps build trust with our NATO allies and partner nations and affords us new opportunities to train together through a variety of scenarios.”

USAF/SeniorAirman Eugene Oliver


Over the next few days the support aircraft arrived bringing personnel and equipment needed for a month long deployment including an Atlas Air 747, Omni Air International 777 and a United States Air Force (USAF) C-17.


The second flight of the deployment on the 28th August was interesting, with the goal to fly over all NATO countries in one day. The flight of four B-52s departed at different times throughout the morning and arriving back at RAF Fairford from late afternoon and into the evening, with the longest flight being flown by NATO 01 lasting 12 hrs. The B-52s flew with various fighters from the European countries including Czech Air Force Gripens, Belgian Air Force F-16s, RAF Typhoons and Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s and F-35s.

“U.S. security commitments to the NATO Alliance remain ironclad,” said Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command (USEUCOM). “Today's bomber task force mission is another example of how the Alliance sustains readiness, improves interoperability and demonstrates our ability to deliver on commitments from across the Atlantic.”

USAF/Senior Airman Xavier Navarro and Senior Airman Erin Babis


The next flight that sparked much media attention was on the 4th September when three B52s departed not long after sunrise for Ukraine. The callsigns for this flight were JULIA 51 – 53, which hinted towards Yulia Skripal whom was poisoned in Salisbury in 2018 with her father. The aircraft spent time flying with the Ukrainian Air Force SU-27s and MiG-29s. U.S. European Command said in a release that the mission provided the B-52s with, “valuable midair training.” They also practiced working with Ukrainian fighters inside Ukraine’s airspace, and showed how aircraft such as the B-52 could deter Russian aggression.

The task force continued to travel throughout the region with another country added to the list of nations that the B-52s flew with, this time in North Africa. Morocco is a country that has long been a partnership nation to the US and in a comment from the US Embassy in Morocco “Operations & engagements w/ our allies & partners demonstrate & strengthen our shared commitment to global security & stability.”

USAF/Senior Airman Xavier Navarro


The pair of B-52s that completed this mission on the 7th September did not return to RAF Fairford after and instead landed at Moron Air Base in Spain. These aircraft stayed over night and completed their BTF next mission from this location. Moron is another base in the European theatre that can be used by USAF bombers for forward deployment.


Exercise Point Blank is a large force exercise designed to sharpen combat readiness and increase tactical proficiency of the US, British Ministry of Defence, and other NATO forces. This was the first of three major exercises that the BTF participated in and the first time B-52s had participated in exercise Point Blank.

USAF/Master Sgt. Matthew Plew


More than 50 aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Marine Corps, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Netherlands Air Force participated in exercise Point Blank 20-04 over the North Sea, Sep. 10.

A high-end fight focused on fourth and fifth-generation defensive counter air integration, this exercise saw the return of U.S. Air Force F-15s and KC-135s, Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-16s, RAF and RNLAF F-35s, RAF Typhoons, and a RAF Voyager. With further participants including US Marine Corp F-35s, VMFA 211 (deployed to RAF Marham, Norfolk) and USAF F-16s from the 510th and 555th Fighter Squadrons based at Aviano, Italy but forward deployed to RAF Lakenheath. “Flying alongside fellow NATO nations over and around the United Kingdom in a complex war-fighting scenario involving over 50 aircraft is exactly the sort of training that keeps our Royal Air Force sharp and ready to operate alongside our allies whenever and wherever the call comes,” said James Heappey, U.K. minister for Armed Forces.

Point Blank is a recurring, low-cost exercise initiative designed to increase tactical proficiency and demonstrate the collective commitment to regional security. (https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2345203/bombers-marine-f-35s-join-point-blank-20-4-exercise/)

The participation in European exercises continued with Ample Strike which is an ‘international tactical exercise takes place in the Czech Republic. In addition to the Czech Republic, six other Alliance armies (Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Germany, the Slovak Republic and the United States) are planning to participate in the training. Almost five hundred Czech soldiers should be accompanied by up to 200 foreign soldiers.’ (https://www.czdefence.com/article/the-international-military-training-ample-strike-2020-started-today)

Three B-52s departed on this exercise under callsigns KAGO 11 – 13 on the 14th September.

This exercise focuses mainly on harmonising interoperability between participating nations using advanced forward air controllers working with crews of aircraft and helicopters and commanders of ground units in a multinational environment, testing the Czech Republics ability to provide support to foreign forces in country.

A region where there has been heightened tensions is the eastern Mediterranean with Greece and Turkey disputing over resources. The BTF sent two B-52s to the area and flew with the Hellenic Air Force F-16s focusing on integration and interoperability with partners in the region.

USAF/Master Sgt. Burt Traynor


The flight included long-planned training with Italian Air Force Eurofighters, Royal Air Force Eurofighters (flying from Akrotiri, Cyprus) and U.S. Navy P-8 aircraft.

KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft from 100th Air Refuelling Wing enabled the long-range strategic Bomber Task Force Europe mission by providing aerial refuelling support.

21st September saw five B-52s depart RAF Fairford, callsigns CHARGER 21 – 23 and CHARGER 25 – 26, as part of a Global Power Mission which would also see B-1B Lancers and B-2 Sprits participating from bases in the continental US and integrating with NATO Allies and partners fighter aircraft. The mission covered multiple geographic regions near the most eastern part of Europe and the Western edge of the Pacific.

“Today’s Bomber Task Force operation is yet another demonstration of our steadfast commitment to Allies and partners and our collective ability to plan, execute and coordinate multiple complex missions at speed,” said Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander, U.S. European Command. “All of this is made possible by the vibrant relationships across the NATO Alliance and our enduring commitment to champion the cause of peace through competition and deterrence.”

The final exercise that the BTF were involved in was Astral Knight. The B-52s took part in the for three consecutive days, 23rd – 25th September, in the exercise which is a joint multinational exercise involving airmen and soldiers from the US working with service members from Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Sweden.

This exercise aims to develop and exercise an enduring regional integrated air and missile defence architecture, command and control integration, coordination and interoperability of air and land capabilities with overlapping operations into the integrated air and missile defence enterprise.

“Astral Knight 20 builds on the lessons learned from last year’s exercise by enhancing our ability to execute a resilient, integrated air and missile defence enterprise,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces in Africa commander. "By integrating U.S. and ally assets, we are able to build greater awareness, making our capabilities stronger and more resilient.”

(https://www.usafe.af.mil/News/Press-Releases/Article/2347592/astral-knight-2020-enhancing-regional-security/)

Astral Knight signified the end of BTF 20 – 4 which saw the 23rd BS departing back to Minot AB on the 26th and 28th September. ‘The B-52s flew 57 mission with 100 partner aircraft, alongside allies and partners from 30 different countries. They conducted integration and interoperability mission over the North, Barents, Black, Norwegian and Mediterranean Seas and in the Baltic region’. More information can be found on the Minot AFB page at https://www.minot.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2371796/bomber-barons-return-from-bomber-task-force-europe/

Thank you to the 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs office for information and photographs regarding this deployment.

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About the editor

Michael Lintott-Danks has worked in forestry for two decades but the passion for aviation has always been high. Photography has now given Michael the opportunity to get closer to the action and he has worked with many air forces close to home and further afield.  

 

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