Welcome to the first of our new Weekly News Briefings looking at some of the key military aviation and radio updates from around the UK and beyond over the past week. This new weekly feature is designed to provide a quick snapshot into some of the key events, movements and activities over the previous seven days as we know all too well how difficult it can be to keep up with things in today’s fast-paced modern world.
BOMBER TASK FORCE AT RAF FAIRFORD
The six B-52 Bombers currently deployed at RAF Fairford continue to prove to be a key area of interest for the military radio monitoring community with regular sorties flying across Europe and working alongside NATO allies.
In a series of press releases from the USAF Public Affairs Office, the training sorties have been getting some excellent media coverage as they undertake their business. After their surprise arrival on Saturday 22nd August, the aircraft and crews have undertaken a range of training sorties including integration with French and UK aircraft, flying over all 30 NATO nations in a single day, have been intercepted by Russian Aircraft over the Black Sea and further integration with Norwegian forces.
To say the deployment so far has been eventful would be an understatement with their activities being closely monitored by the UK aviation enthusiast community from the fence line at RAF Fairford, on the radio bands and also on virtual radar systems.
The first sortie on 27th August seen two B-52s conduct integration and interoperability training with French Air Force Mirage fighters and RAF Typhoon in the first Bomber Task Force Europe mission at a forward-operating base since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As well as integration with French and RAF Fighters, the B-52s also undertook air-to-air refuelling with a French Air Force KC-135 and an RAF Voyage to enable long-range, long duration strategic missions utilising NATO’s tanker support.
On 28th August in a single-day mission titled Allied Sky would see six B-52s flying over all 30 NATO nations in Europe and North America. The planned mission would see four B-52s launch from RAF Fairford to fly the European portion of the mission and two B-52s launching from Minot Air Force Base to flying over the NATO nations of the US and Canada.
The NATO nations scheduled to participate in the mission and integrate with the bomber aircraft included Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the USA.
It was also on this date the USAF released news of a B-52 being intercepted by two Su-27 Flankers while the bomber was conducting routine operations in the black sea over international waters. According to the official press release, the Russian pilots flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner while crossing within 100 feet of the nose of the B-52 multiple times at co-altitude and while in afterburner causing turbulence and restricting the B-52s ability to manoeuvre.
On 31st August, three B-52s once again took off from RAF Fairford and returned to the Baltic region for further integration and interoperability training. This sortie included training with Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK alongside integration with Italian and German Eurofighters and Portuguese F-16s. The sortie was once again supported by the 100th Air Refuelling Wing from RAF Mildenhall who continue to be an vital strategic asset for US operations in Europe.
On 2nd September, two B-52s launched from RAF Fairford to conduct multi-domain flights over international waters in the vicinity of the Norwegian Sea. During this sortie, the bombers integrated with Norwegian F-35s and F-16 fighter aircraft as well as Norwegian frigates. And based on the comments made by Lt Col Michael Middents on 3rd September, there’s still plenty more sorties to come.
“Yesterday, marks 18 completed out of 18 planned Bomber Task Force missions since August 22 with many more to come,” said Lt. Col. Michael Middents, 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron commander. “This milestone proves the U.S. Air Forces’s ability to project sustainable long-range strike in support of our allies and against our adversaries across the globe. It proves that we don’t just make promises to respond, we will respond.”
And it didn’t take long with three B-52s launching on Friday 4th September for a sortie which would see them heading east and enter Ukraine airspace which is believed to be the first time in history US Strategic Bombers have done so. It was also interesting to note both an RAF and USAF RC-135 Rivet Joint SIGINT aircraft were also operating in the same general region.
During their time airborne, the B-52s orbited for an extended period of time near to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula. Two of the B-52s were also transmitting full Mode-S data so virtual radar enthusiasts around the globe were able to sit and watch their progress in this historic and somewhat unprecedented mission.
A range of callsigns have been utilised so far during this bomber deployment including NATO; NARES; DUMP; YANKEE; KARAN and JULIA.
With the B-52s expected to remain deployed at RAF Fairford for at least another two weeks, there will without a doubt be further sorites of note with the aviation community remaining forever hopeful that other US bomber assets may also make an appearance.
USMC F-35s ARRIVE AT MARHAM
On Thursday 3rd September, all eyes and ears were on RAF Marham with the expected arrival of 10 United States Marine Corps F-35s. The flight of fighters using the callsign MAZDA would be supported by a number of KC-10s using the standard GOLD callsign for the crossing over the Atlantic.
Callsigns GOLD 62 and 72 handed the initial support along the eastern seaboard with KC-10s using the callsign GOLD 61 and GOLD 71 launching from their staging location at Bangor, Maine to pick up MAZDA 11 flight (5x F35s) who would be supported by GOLD 61 and MAZDA 21 flight (5x F35s) supported by GOLD 71.
Both GOLD 61 and GOLD 71 were displaying full Mode-S allowing military monitors to track the aircraft as the entered their oceanic entry point and then once again when in range to track them routing over Scotland and south towards RAF Marham. All 10 F-35s arrived safely at RAF Marham with their tanker support landing at nearby RAF Mildenhall.
The 10 F-35Bs from V Marine Fighter Attack (VMFA) – 211 Squadron will be working alongside the RAF’s 617 Squadron ahead of a group exercise this month where they will embark onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth to take part in Exercise Joint Warrior. As well as exercise Joint Warrior, the USMF aircraft will also be participating in Exercise Point Blank with assets from RAF Lakenheath and other NATO partners.
On completion of Exercise Joint Warrior both 211 and 617 Squadrons are due to return to RAF Marham to take part in Exercise Crimson Warrior.