US Air Force Col. Kurt Wendt has called the deployment of three US B2 bombers to RAF Fairford airbase in Gloucestershire, southern England this week “a very powerful message” to US adversaries about US and NATO capabilities.
“This is a visual statement that any potential adversary, whether that’s a nation, a violent extremist organisation, or some other bad actor, that the United States and its allies, including the United Kingdom can apply combat power anywhere, anytime,” Wendt said, speaking to ITV News in a report featuring footage of a B2 refuelling while being escorted by a pair of Royal Air Force F-35s.
Some great footage of B2 stealth bomber refuelling over the UK. Exclusive access by ITV news. My report is on @itvwestcountry and also watch @rupertevelyn 's report on ITV News at Ten for more. #planespotting #Stealth #USAF #RAF pic.twitter.com/yhrBt4tMuG— Ken Goodwin (@KenGoodwinITV) 30 августа 2019 г.
The bombers are expected to spend two months in the UK, their longest-ever planned deployment in the country, and are said to have arrived under the callsigns Death 1, Death 2 and Death 3.
ITV correspondent Rupert Evelyn suggested the B2 deployment was designed specifically to make Russia “take note” of their presence. “The pilot may have their trigger finger on a nuclear payload, what the US might call the ultimate deterrent,” he said during the segment.
The warplanes, ordinarily stationed at the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, are officially in the UK for regional naval drills.
The US and its NATO allies have substantially increased their footprint near Russia’s borders since the 2014 Ukraine crisis, conducting a growing number of drills in the region and increasing the number of permanent troop deployments in Eastern Europe over the last five years. The Russian military regularly reports picking up, monitoring and escorting NATO, warplanes, bombers, spy planes and reconnaissance drones operating near Russian borders in the Baltic and Black Seas. The US has also expanded its missile defence efforts in Eastern Europe, stationing Aegis Ashore components in Romania and Poland, which Moscow says can easily be converted to deploy offensive cruise missiles.
The Northrop Grumman B2 Spirit was developed during the Cold War as a long-range, deep nuclear strike aircraft, and is capable of carrying a variety of conventional and nuclear payloads. The pricey aircraft costs nearly $170,000 per hour of flight time, with a single B2 costing over $2 billion to build. The US Air Force has 20 B2s in its active inventory.