The U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer supersonic strategic bombers conducted a 16-hour sortie that crossed directly over the North Pole as part of a Bomber Task Force (BTF) mission from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.
The 6,100 nautical mile mission saw the bombers, assigned to the USAF’s 345th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, conducting training with the Royal Norwegian Air Force off the coast of Greenland and over the Norwegian Sea.
During the mission, the bombers received air refueling support over the Arctic Ocean before spending several hours training with the Norwegian forces.
A statement from the Air Force said that this mission “highlighted the U.S. Air Force’s capacity to conduct complex operations in multiple areas of responsibility with NATO allies and partners”.
Col. Christopher Hawn, 345th EBS commander, said the ability to operate in the Arctic region is important in supporting U.S. European Command (EUCOM) initiatives and in fulfilling the objectives of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which reoriented the U.S. military’s focus from the Middle East to near-peer concerns in Asia and Europe.
“It is about access,” he explained. “In a near-peer conflict, the closest point of access could require us to go through the Arctic, so we need to ensure we are well versed in that operational environment.”
Operating out of Eielson Air Force Base proved to be an invaluable training opportunity for the unit, whose home station is Dyess AFB, Texas.
“The fact that we can conduct operations at a moment’s notice from Alaska to anywhere within the EUCOM area of responsibility sends a strong message,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Marshall, 345th EBS director of operations.
Training in the Arctic has grown increasingly important, as the region holds strategic value for U.S. Air and Space Forces as well as its allies and partners. It is also vital to homeland security, as it provides avenues of approach to the U.S. from space, air, sea, and land.
“The harsh conditions and limited access throughout the region make it easy to overlook the value of the Arctic,” Marshall said. “However, the increase in global competition for access and control of the region solidifies the Arctic’s status as a key territory.”
The training also holds tactical importance for aircrews, as it helped them gain familiarity with different operational theaters and unique training environments. Hawn, who has been a B-1 Lancer pilot since 2000, said he did not recall being part of an Arctic mission in the platform prior to these sorties.
“Our corporate knowledge of Arctic operations in the B-1 is not as robust as it is for other regions of the world, and we fully intend to share our insights with the rest of the B-1 enterprise upon our return,” he said. “The knowledge and experience we have gained can and will be leveraged for immediate and lasting effect in this community.”
The 345th EBS has conducted 16 sorties in seven flying days since arriving for the BTF on Sept. 10. The unit, which is comprised of Reserve Airmen from the 307th Bomb Wing and active-duty Airmen from the 7th Bomb Wing, has had a 100 percent launch and mission effective rate since arriving in theater, a testament to the Total Force Integration package the unit utilizes at Dyess AFB, in which both parties work together daily.