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U.S. Air Force Bomber Crews Brave The Cold

 
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СообщениеДобавлено: 11.03.2021 10:52    Заголовок сообщения: U.S. Air Force Bomber Crews Brave The Cold Ответить с цитатой

U.S. Air Force Bomber Crews Brave The Cold As The Pentagon Expands Its Arctic Options



The U.S. Air Force steadily is surrounding the Arctic with airfields capable of supporting the service’s biggest and most powerful warplanes.

No new construction is necessary. Rather, the flying branch is proving that its planes and crews can work at existing bases that, until recently, rarely hosted a plane as big as a bomber.

On Monday, a B-1 bomber from the Texas-based 7th Bomb Wing landed at the Norwegian air force base in Bodo. The 100-ton warplane quickly refueled than took off again. It was the first-ever landing by a B-1 at a base inside the Arctic Circle.

The so-called “warm-pit” refueling by the swing-wing B-1 grows by one the constellation of airfields the USAF bomber fleet can access for Arctic operations. Four B-1s in late February arrived at Norway’s Orland air base for a months-long deployment—the first-ever for the type in the Scandinavian country.

The trend is clear. American bombers are staging at more and more bases in strategic regions, developing infrastructure and expertise for ever-wider wartime roles.

That expansion is the direct result of a recent change in Pentagon policy. The U.S. military is getting more aggressive in the regions where its biggest rivals—the Russians and Chinese—themselves are most assertive.

“That’s the ever-expanding portfolio,” said Hans Kristensen, a military expert at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C. “Once broader role [and] footprint is the message, they can’t not do more and in different places.”

As recently as 2019, the U.S. bomber fleet—soon to include 45 B-1s, 20 B-2s and 76 B-52s—could count on just one base in or around the Arctic Circle. That was Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska.

Eielson is the Air Force’s biggest cold-weather base. It permanently hosts F-16 and F-35 fighters and KC-135 tankers, but bombers are regular visitors.

With climate change irrevocably warming the Arctic region and making its waters more navigable, Russia has been rushing to establish a new Northern Sea Route—and bases to protect it.

“Russia views itself as a polar great power and is the largest Arctic nation by landmass, population and military presence above the Arctic Circle,” the U.S. Defense Department noted in its 2019 Arctic strategy document. “Russia’s commercial investments in the Arctic region have been matched by continued defense investments and activities that strengthen both its territorial defense and its ability to control the [Northern Sea Route].”

More Russian warships ply northern waters. More Russian bombers crisscross Arctic air space. More Russian soldiers are training for cold-weather warfare.

That has motivated the Pentagon to respond with its own Arctic expansion. Two years ago, the Air Force landed a B-2 stealth bomber for the first time at Keflavik air base in Iceland. In the two years that followed, all three of the USAF’s bomber types flew training sorties in Arctic air space, often in the company of Norwegian and Swedish fighters.

The recent B-1 deployment is more of the same, but arguably more substantive. It’s all about hardening maintainers and ground crew against the biting cold. “The aircraft doesn’t mind, it’s our great aviators and maintainers and support personnel who might not be as familiar with the rigors of the cold,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Basham, deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

Further U.S. expansion in the region is likely, Kristensen said. “More bombers will be sent, landing at additional air bases, displaying more capabilities.”

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