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B-2s Join B-52s, B-1Bs in Europe for Wargames

The U.S. Air Force has sent B-2 Spirit bombers to England for drills with NATO and partner allies furthering the military's continuance to deploy aircraft despite a period of bizarre political relations with Russia.

The move means the service now has its full complement of bombers in Europe -- the B-2 joins three B-52 Stratofortresses from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and three B-1B Lancers from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota -- and marks the first time all three aircraft have been in the theater at the same time, European Command officials said in a release.

The Air Force said two B-2 nuclear-capable bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, arrived at Royal Air Force Fairford, U.K., on Friday, but said the bombers "are briefly joining the other Air Force Global Strike Command assets in support of recurring bomber assurance and deterrence operations," the release said.

"These B-2 Spirits will not support Exercises BALTOPS or Saber Strike and will only remain in theater a short time," it said.

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The B-1Bs and B-52s, however, are supporting those exercises.

While the annual exercises have taken place for years, bomber deployments to Europe have been given more scrutiny since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

The Pentagon sent two B-2s and three B-52s to Europe for similar training events in June 2014 days after then-President Obama announced he would increase the U.S. military presence in the region following the annexation, and Russia's continued aggression in Eastern Ukraine.

#Photobomb! A #Russian Su-27 Flanker got into our shot 📸 during a #BALTOPS sortie over the #BalticSea today. The intercept was deemed safe. pic.twitter.com/SMwGfE2QYr

— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) June 9, 2017

This is the fourth year B-52s have been invited for exercises, of which the bombers practice dummy bomb drops.

Last year, airmen practiced dropping "500-pound dummy mines, set up like a real mine, with a tail kit, and employment characteristics but it's just concrete," said Lt Col. Michael Maginness, 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron commander. The goal is to hit "splash points," evaluated by the U.S. Navy, and track how well the bomber can hit up a mine field if it were laden with explosives, Maginness told Air Force Times at the time.

BALTOPs, which began in 1972, is a maritime-focused exercise taking place in the Baltic Sea in which several NATO allies and partner nations conduct live training events. This year, many of the drills will take place from Szczecin, Poland and finish in Kiel, Germany.

Saber Strike, led by the U.S. Army in Europe and in its seventh year, is meant to improve communication skills during land exercises which span Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, such as working with joint terminal attack controllers on the ground.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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