In recent months, RAF Fairford has become a focus for the military radio and aviation enthusiast as we witness a sudden resurgence in activity as the US Military machine flexes its muscles.
It all started towards the end of August with the deployment of 3x B-2 Stealth Bombers who operated from the Gloucestershire base for nearly four weeks – the longest deployment to the UK ever seen. The deployment also included some historic activities including the first landing and hot-refuelling in Iceland amongst other places.
Add into the mix a B-52 bomber, which diverted initially to RAF Mildenhall after suffering an engine issue and then multiple U-2 spy planes, which are rumoured to be detached to RAF Fairford for the next two years.
During September, further rumours began to circulate regarding a large scale deployment of B-52 bombers to the base. Given recent activities and the ongoing military commitments and global issues, a large scale heavy bomber deployment seemed very much a possibility.
And it didn’t take long the for the rumours to become a reality.
The first signs came during the early afternoon of Thursday 10th October when sharp-eyed monitors spotted multiple KC-135 tankers and an air-to-air refuelling NOTAM for AR-20 NE in the USA, which is regularly used for aircraft embarking on a transatlantic crossing.
A short time later, multiple B52s were plotting over the USA heading towards AR-20 NE showing with the lead aircraft showing as BRIG 01. Only three aircraft were transmitting Mode-S however it would transpire it was a flight of four.
In an interesting turn of events while the aircraft were airborne and over the Atlantic, the USAF released a press statement to confirm the deployment of the 2nd Bomb Wing to RAF Fairford. The very bold headline of ‘Adversaries take notice: Bombers are back and ready to roll’ was clearly designed to send out a strong message.
Whether this was intentionally released prior to arrival, a mistimed release or in direct response to the aviation community who were actively talking about it, we will never know.
BRIG 01 flight was cleared across the Atlantic with the following clearance:
BUDAR N5000W05145 N5230W04500 N5400W04000 N5515W03500 N5610W03000 N5810W02500 N5950W02025 N6000W01500 ATSIX AKIVO FL260-280 at Mach .74
As the aircraft routed across the Atlantic, regular HF intercepts were reported checking at the various crossing points including 8864KHz.
Fast forward a few hours later, and the flight of B52s were once again picked up by Mode-S monitors in Scotland and began accurately plotting across 360 Radar and other mode-s applications. As they approached Scotland, the flight split into two with BRIG 03 routing over Scotland direct towards Fairford, while BRIG 01 and 02 routed across the north of Scotland and continued east.
As the first aircraft was being reported to arrive at RAF Fairford, the other aircraft confirmed as a flight of three, were tracked routing towards the Baltic region. Interestingly, a USAF JSTARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) airborne command aircraft using the callsign ANARCH4 and a USAF RC-135 Rivet Joint were also operating in the vicinity.
Following their routing which may or may not have included some form of simulated bomber run or interoperability exercise with the JSTARS and Rivet Joint aircraft, the flight of three routed towards RAF Fairford, landing a short time thereafter.
“Bomber Task Force rotations provide us with a consistent and near-continuous long-range weapon capability, and represent our ability to project air power around the globe,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa.
“They also provide invaluable opportunities to train and integrate with our allies and partners in the Black Sea, Baltic and the Arctic regions. By varying types and overall numbers of aircraft on each BTF rotation we are able to train to a variety of scenarios and partners while we demonstrate our ironclad commitment to our NATO allies and our promise to ensure regional security.”
The deployment of strategic bombers to the U.K. helps exercise RAF Fairford as United States Air Forces in Europe’s forward operating location for bombers. The deployment also includes joint and allied training in the U.S. European Command theatre to improve bomber interoperability. Training with joint partners, allied nations and other U.S. Air Force units contributes to a lethal and ready force and enables us to build enduring and strategic relationships necessary to confront a broad range of global challenges.
Once again all eyes and ears are now directly on RAF Fairford, especially given the recent global developments of the last 48 hours including the ongoing actions by Turkey against Syria following US troops being pulled from the region.
Rumours are also rife today of another four B-52 bombers deploying to RAF Fairford and expected to arrive later this evening, which would take the total number of heavy bombers in Gloucestershire to eight – a number I don’t believe has been seen since the Second Gulf War back in 2002/2003.
As with all deployments, the exact duration remains unknown however more information, and rumours, will likely follow in due course.