US Air Force (USAF) B-52s last week flew alongside Ukrainian fighter jets during a patrol that saw the bombers skirt Russian-controlled territory.
The strategic mission saw three B-52s fly sorties near Russian-controlled Crimea after departing from RAF Fairford in the UK.
In a press release, US European Command (EUCOM) said: “Friday’s strategic bomber mission is part of the long-planned deployment of six B-52s to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, England. The mission provided partners with valuable mid-air training.
“In addition, the mission demonstrated how forward-located aircraft and crews, such as those in the B-52 units, enable collective defence capabilities and provide the US, NATO allies and partners strategic and operational breadth to deter Russia and assure allies and partners.”
The Crimean Peninsula is still claimed by Ukraine but was annexed by Russia in 2014.
While the US B-52s were on station, two RC-135V/W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft were also operating in the area, as well as aircraft from the Royal Air Force (RAF).
Commenting on the operation, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) research fellow and editor of RUSI Defence Systems Justin Bronk said: “It was certainly an unusually open piece of military signalling by the US to the Russians, and fits into a broader pattern of escalating posturing by both sides in recent months.
“It will certainly have been extremely welcome in Kiev and viewed with some annoyance in Moscow for its symbolic value – as was the deployment of USAF F-15Cs to Ukraine for joint training last year.”
Since its inception two years ago the US Bomber Task Force in Europe has flown over 200 sorties. The three B-52 that participated in the Ukraine operation make up half of a total of six B-52s based at RAF Fairford.Research Fellow / Editor of RUSI Defence Systems
The deployment follows another show of strength in late August that saw B-52s fly over all 30 NATO-allied countries. The flight over the NATO allies was interrupted at one point by what the USAF called an ‘unprofessional’ intercept as B-52s transited the Black Sea.
During the exercise, called ‘Allied Sky’, two Russian Su-27 Flanker pilots intercepted a B-52, coming within 100 feet of the nose of the aircraft causing turbulence.
Commenting on the unsafe intercept, USAF in Europe-Air Forces Africa commander General Jeff Harrigian said: “Actions like these increase the potential for mid-air collisions, are unnecessary, and inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules.
“While the Russian aircraft were operating in international airspace, they jeopardized the safety of flight of the aircraft involved. We expect them to operate within international standards set to ensure safety and prevent accidents.”