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Ukraine crisis: American B-52 'Stratofortress' bombers land in UK

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 11/02/2022 Lucy Fisher
A United States Air Force (USAF) B-52 bomber landing at RAF Fairford - PAUL NICHOLLS © PAUL NICHOLLS A United States Air Force (USAF) B-52 bomber landing at RAF Fairford - PAUL NICHOLLS

Four American B-52 long-range bombers have arrived in Britain today, as diplomatic tensions simmer between Russia and the West.

The iconic US military aircraft are headed for RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, following the arrival of ground crew and logistics personnel two days earlier, it is understood.

The B-52, also known as the Stratofortress, is a long-range heavy bomber that has been in US military service since 1955. It can carry nuclear or precision guided conventional weapons.

The jets, which took off from their home base US Air Force Minot in North Dakota at 2am before refuelling in Nova Scotia, are part of a long-planned Bomber Task Force mission. 

The first bomber landed this morning, followed by a second this afternoon. Flight trackers suggest the other two are engaging in various activities over the UK before reaching their destination. 

A UK defence source said of the US deployment’s link to growing concerns about the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine: “Is this aligned to current tensions? Yes and no.” 

A B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 69th Bomb Squadron arriving in Fairford - Cpl 'Matty' Matthews © Provided by The Telegraph A B-52H Stratofortress assigned to the 69th Bomb Squadron arriving in Fairford - Cpl 'Matty' Matthews The B-52 bomber is also known as the Stratofortress - Ben Birchall /PA © Provided by The Telegraph The B-52 bomber is also known as the Stratofortress - Ben Birchall /PA

The source acknowledged that the timing was striking, coming as Boris Johnson said the Ukraine security crisis was reaching “the most dangerous moment” in coming days.


Video: UK weapons arrive in Ukraine (Sky News)

However, they stressed that US large strategic assets were frequently sent to RAF Fairford as part of a strengthened Nato presence agreed in the wake of Russia illegally annexing Crimea in 2014. The B-52s tend to stay around 10 days at a time before returning to the US, the source added.

One former British intelligence official said that if the diplomatic clash between Nato and Russia grew “hot”, the Pentagon could potentially launch cruise missiles from the British RAF station.

“From Fairford they could operate against a range of targets: troop concentrations in southern Russia and Belarus, Moscow/St Petersburg, even the naval bases in the White Sea,” the ex-official said.

“In 1991 they hit Baghdad from Fairford, flew on to Diego Garcia, refuelled and rearmed, bombed Baghdad again on the way back and returned to Fairford.”

The long-range bomber has been used in multiple conflicts, including Iraq and Syria - HO/AFP © Provided by The Telegraph The long-range bomber has been used in multiple conflicts, including Iraq and Syria - HO/AFP

The US Air Force also used the bomber during the Bosnian and Kosovo conflicts, the war in Afghanistan, and the air campaign against Isis in the Middle East.

A statement from the US Air Force, published by Gloucestershire Live, stated: “B-52 Stratofortress aircraft, support equipment, and personnel from the 5th Bomb Wing, Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, arrived at RAF Fariford, England, today to execute the long-planned Bomber Task Force mission, a regularly scheduled U.S. European Command and U.S. Strategic Command joint mission series.

“En route to RAF Fairford, US Bomber Aircraft integrated with British Typhoon aircraft and Portuguese F-16s currently assigned to NATO’s Icelandic Air Policing mission. Bomber aircraft also integrated with British Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) to conduct bilateral Close Air Support training. The mission focused on enhancing readiness and interoperability for the controllers responsible for coordinating airstrikes to support ground forces.

“Regularly integrating with our allies improves our cooperation and operational capacity, capability and interoperability. Occurring since 2018, bomber rotations through Europe maintain our readiness to execute a wide variety of missions across two continents, sustaining peace through deterrence."

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