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USAF B-52 conducts Arctic flight

19 September 2018
A USAF B-52 is refuelled by a KC-135 off the Norwegian coast on 15 September. Source: USAF/Senior Airman Luke Milano

A US Air Force (USAF) B-52H nuclear-capable bomber has flown a long-range mission along Russia’s Arctic region as both countries continue to make shows of strength around each other’s coasts.

The 1950s vintage bomber, using the call sign Chaos 43, took off for its mission from Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford in Gloucestershire early on the morning of 15 September, according to open source tracking of its Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast (ADS-B) transponder data.

It then flew northwards over the North Sea, around the North Cape of Norway, and over the Barents Sea. Using air-to-air refuelling support from a USAF Boeing KC-135R flying out of RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom, the B-52H skirted around the eastern coast of Russia's Zemlya archipelago before flying around Norway’s Svalbard island chain. The bomber then headed back to the United Kingdom and landed at RAF Fairford about 12 hours after it took off.

From the transponder data, it appears that US aircraft remained in international airspace throughout the mission and there are no reports that Russian fighter aircraft were launched to intercept them.

“The purpose of the flight was to conduct theatre familiarisation for aircrew members and to demonstrate US commitment to allies and partners through the global employment of our military forces,” US Air Forces in Europe said in a statement posted on its website on 17 September. “US Strategic Command regularly tests and evaluates the readiness of strategic assets to ensure we are able to honour our security commitments.”

The B-52H is part of a bomber task force of two aircraft deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to RAF Fairford on 5 September to carry out exercises with European air forces.

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