Aircraft from the US Air Force (USAF) have begun arriving in the UK’s RAF Fairford airbase to for the backbone of the standing Bomber Task Force Europe 2023, in alignment with planned rotations in support of US European Command and Nato deterrence efforts.
Two B-1B Lancers departed from Dyess Air Force Base’s 7th Bomb Wing entered the European theatre on 23 May, adding to the Alliance’s Air Policing and Air Shielding missions already underway throughout the Baltic Sea region.
In a 24 May release from Nato Allied Air Command, it was stated that the Bomber Task Force iteration will eventually include four B1-B bombers, with the remaining two aircraft expected to arrive on 25 May.
When the three Baltic States joined Nato in 2004, a NATO Air Policing capability was established at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania. In 2014, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a second Air Policing presence was established at Ämari Air Base, Estonia, under NATO’s Assurance Measures to its Eastern Allies.
Since Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year Nato has sought to reassure allies in the Baltic region, with the critically located Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, home of its Baltic Fleet, bordering Poland to the south and Lithuania to the east and north.
Russian ally Belarus borders the Baltic States of Lithuania and Latvia, while the latter two countries, in addition to Estonia, sharing a land border with Russia itself.
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Since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Finland has also joined Nato, resulting in Moscow’s action, far from limiting the expansion of its long-time rival, managing to have the opposite effect.
B-1B Lancer bomber
Originally developed by Rockwell International, now Boeing Defense and Space, the B-1B Lancer is the USAF’s long-range strategic bomber, conducting its first flight in 1974. Of around 100 built, 67 are still in service.
The B-1B, which became operational in 1986, has the largest internal payload of any current bomber, although the US Department of Defense announced plans in 2001 to cut its B-1B inventory from 92 to 67 as a cost-saving measure. The first aircraft was withdrawn from service in August 2002.
In 2021 the USAF concluded the divestiture of an additional 17 B-1B Lancers, leaving just 45 in its inventory. The aircraft is projected to be in service until 2040 and beyond.
The B-1B is no longer armed with nuclear weapons but is capable of carrying the AGM-86B air launch cruise missile (ALCM) and the AGM-69 short-range attack missile.
The aircraft has three internal weapon bays and six external hardpoints under the fuselage, and has a maximum internal weapons payload of 75,000lb and maximum external weapons payload of 59,000lb.
The weapons payload can include 24 GBU-31 joint direct attack munition (JDAM) at one time or a combination of 24 Mk84 2,000lb general purpose bombs, eight Mk65 naval mines, 84 Mk82 500lb general purpose bombs, 84 Mk62 500lb naval mines, 30 CBU-87, -89, -97 cluster munitions, 30 CBU-103, -104, -105 wind-corrected munitions dispenser (WCMD), 24 AGM-158 joint air to surface stand-off missiles or 12 AGM-154 joint stand-off weapons.