The U.S. Air Force sent five nuclear-capable bombers to Europe in early June as President Barack Obama traveled to the region to reassure allies against the backdrop of Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea and separatist conflict in Ukraine.
All five bombers went to the air force base at Fairford in the United Kingdom. Two B-52 bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and one from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota arrived on June 4 for a two-week deployment, according to an Air Force press release. “Airmen will train and integrate with U.S. and allied military forces in the region,” the Air Force said, adding that the bombers did not carry live weapons.
Four days later, two B-2 bombers based at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri flew to Fairford as well, the Air Force said. As the most sophisticated U.S. bomber for penetrating enemy air defenses, the presence in Europe of nuclear-capable B-2s was reported by media outlets as possibly sending a pointed message to Moscow.
Official statements, however, said the motivation for the bomber deployment was to reassure officials in the United States and its allies. Adm. Cecil Haney, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, said in a June 8 press release that the “training and integration of strategic forces demonstrates to our nation’s leaders and our allies that we have the right mix of aircraft and expertise to respond to a variety of potential threats and situations.”
The United States stations about 180 B61 gravity bombs at military bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey to be delivered by short-range fighter jets.
During his four-day trip to Europe, which began June 4, Obama announced new measures intended to bolster security in central and eastern Europe in response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
Obama announced that he would ask Congress for $1 billion for his European Reassurance Initiative, which would temporarily increase the U.S. troop presence in eastern Europe and send U.S. Navy ships to the Baltic and Black seas more often. The plan also would provide aid to Ukraine and two other former Soviet republics, Georgia and Moldova.
Some Republican members of Congress have called on the administration to counter Moscow’s actions by accelerating U.S. plans to deploy medium-range missile defense interceptors in Poland under the European Phased Adaptive Approach, as the Obama administration’s missile defense policy in Europe is formally known.
But Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated the administration’s position that the missile deployments are not directed at Russia. “[T]he missile that we’re putting in the ground [in Poland] is certainly not capable of hitting an [intercontinental ballistic missile] coming from Russia, and it really is oriented towards Iran,” Winnefeld said at a May 28 event at the Atlantic Council.
“[W]e’re hopeful that Russia someday will wake up and realize that we are not designing this system to counter their ballistic missile threat,” he said.