The United States Air Force has deployed a task force of B-2 Spirit stealth bombers at Lajes Field, in the Portuguese Azores Islands as part of a broader ongoing deployment of strategic bombers to the European continent, United States European Command (EUCOM) has announced.
“The aircraft will operate out of various military installations in the US European Command’s area of responsibility,” EUCOM said in a statement. “Strategic bomber deployments to Europe provide theatre familiarization for aircrew members and demonstrate US commitment to allies and partners,” the statement added.
EUCOM did not specify the number of aircraft involved in the B-2 task force, nor provide details on the areas the stealth bombers are expected to operate. However, EUCOM’s “area of responsibility” includes Europe, Turkey, Belarus, Ukraine, the Caucasus republics and Russia all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
The planes involved are said to belong to the 509th Bomb Wing and the 13st Bomb Wing, ordinarily based at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. EUCOM did not specify how long the deployment would last. The bombers were said to have received mid-air refueling by KC-10 Extenders on their way over the Atlantic.
The Lajes Field airbase is one of dozens of air bases the US has access to in Europe, and was used extensively during the Cold War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1990-1991 Gulf War, and in support of the US’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The deployment is the second of its kind since August 2019, when B-2s from the 509th Bomb Wing arrived in RAF Fairford in England for allied training in Europe.
The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit is a multi-role bomber capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear munitions. Developed during the Cold War and introduced in the mid-1990s, the aircraft’s features include stealth characteristics which make it difficult to detect using conventional infrared, acoustic, and electromagnetic radar systems. However, Russia’s defence sector has developed a new class of bistatic ‘tripwire’ radar systems believed capable of detecting even the stealthiest US military planes.
Undisguised ‘Anti-Russian’ Drills
The US and its allies kicked off the ‘Defender Europe 2020’ drills late last month, with the main component of the war games expected to take place in April and May. The drills will include the deployment of about 37,000 troops, 20,000 of them from the USA. Defender Europe will include exercises in Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
In late February, Russian Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov said Moscow has no illusions about the drills’ purpose or scope, adding that the buildup of NATO military activity on Russia’s borders is an issue of “serious concern” to Moscow. According to Gerasimov, the drills will be carried out “on the basis of anti-Russian scenarios involving offensive operations.” Last week, Russia’s Foreign Ministry called on NATO to think about the potential consequences of their belligerent actions, including increased tensions between Moscow, Washington, and its European allies.