USAF B-1B strategic bombers continue to play vital role in the service’s Global Strike Force (GSF) doctrine
Speaking at this year’s Electronic Warfare Conference being held in Lausanne between 5 June and 7 June Colonel John Edwards, commander of the United States Air Force’s (USAF) 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth airbase, South Dakota, provided delegates with an update regarding USAF long-range strike capabilities in Europe.
Recent Russian strategic activity in Ukraine and in the Baltic has refocused US and NATO attention on ensuring a robust strategic presence in Europe to deter Russian aggression. Col. Edwards noted how the USAF Global Strike Force (GSF), which is built around the air force’s Boeing B-1B LANCER, Northrop Grumman B-2A and Boeing B-52H strategic bombers, is working hard to ensure that the force benefits from a high degree of protection against the proliferation of sophisticated surface-to-air threats such as Russia’s Almaz-Antey S-400 high-altitude surface-to-air missile batteries which are now proliferating in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and elsewhere in Russia’s Baltic areas.
“The IADS (Integrated Air Defence Systems) have grown in complexity and lethality (since the Cold War) and we are definitely focused on that,” Col. Edwards expanded. He went on to emphasise that the GSF can reach targets anywhere in the world from their bases in the continental US in around ten hours, adding that the force’s mission is focused on conventional strikes as well as supporting the US nuclear deterrent. “We have ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) on constant alert and every second, there is a bomber in the air on a combat mission.”
Recently, the GSF supported the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) cadres in Iraq and Syria as well as Operation Freedom Sentinel, the continuing combat effort against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. Lesser discussed, but equally important, Col. Edwards argued, is the work that the GSF does supporting the counter-narcotics efforts of the US’ Southern Command in the Caribbean and Central America.
With a fleet of around 157 bombers at its disposal, the GSF frames its conventional and nuclear deterrence missions within the philosophy of, “peace through strength,” Col. Edwards continued.
In the European context, the GBF regularly deploys to the Royal Air Force airbase of RAF Fairford in southwest England, and Moron airbase, southern Spain. “These operations are characterised by small (aircraft) detachments,” Col. Edwards noted. For example, the GBF has deployed three B-1Bs to RAF Fairford which will support training and exercise commitments in NATO as well as providing a forward-deployed strike presence. A recent example of the capabilities of the GBF was illustrated on 14 April when two B-1Bs from 28th Bomb Wing supported US-led air-to-surface and surface-to-surface missile strikes against chemical weapons facilities in Syria.
The aircraft fired a total of 19 Lockheed Martin AGM-158A Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-Off missiles against the Barzah Scientific Research Centre outside Damascus. Col. Edwards continued that all 19 missiles struck their targets, dispelling Russian government propaganda that some of the weapons had been shot down.
(( B-1B ))