B-1 Bombers Return from Saudi Arabia as B-2s, B-52s Head to Europe

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(A B-1B Lancer soars over Barksdale Air Force Base, La., in commemoration of the 8th Air Force’s 75th anniversary Feb. 2, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/Erin Trower)
(A B-1B Lancer soars over Barksdale Air Force Base, La., in commemoration of the 8th Air Force’s 75th anniversary Feb. 2, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/Erin Trower)

B-1B Lancers have returned stateside after a short trip to Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan Air Base.

The Air Force on Monday said the deployment was meant to flex bomber muscle for a rapid deployment scenario and to "promote regional security."

"The unannounced arrival of the B-1s at [PSAB] demonstrates the ability of Air Force Global Strike Command to rapidly deploy long-range precision strike capabilities from home station, anywhere around the globe, at any time," the command said after the trip.

They returned to Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota where they are permanently based.

Their presence marked a surprise return of the long-range bombers to the Middle East after they were pulled early this year.

Related: The Bombers Have Landed: B-1s Arrive in Saudi Arabia as Part of US Buildup

According to photos and posts on social media, at least two bombers were seen training alongside an F-22 Raptor and a pair of Navy EA-18 Growlers over the Arabian Gulf. Additional details were not provided by press time.

Earlier this month, the Defense Department signed off on a plan to send thousands more troops and an array of assets to act as a force stabilizer in response to Iran's continued antagonistic actions in the Middle East. The Pentagon did not previously disclose the bombers' role.

The B-1's return home comes as its cousins head to Europe for Exercise Global Thunder as part of a ramped-up effort to send bombers for more strategic deployments around the world.

U.S. Strategic Command launched an unspecified number of B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress bombers to Europe "from multiple locations in the United States and are conducting training operations in the European theater" during the annual nuclear command-and-control and field training exercise, officials said Monday.

These operations include "joining and integrating with B-52 aircraft currently deployed to the [United Kingdom] as well as with fourth- and fifth-generation fighter aircraft flown by multiple close allies," STRATCOM said in a release.

The "Bomber Task Force" demonstrates "the U.S.' capability to provide extended deterrence and fulfill commitments to allies and partners in the region," the release states.

In March, the command similarly deployed the B-52 to RAF Fairford, England, for a month-long rotation, not uncommon for the European theater, which has had a bomber rotation at least once a year since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

B-52s deployed to England again earlier this month and trained with counterparts in Romania, Ukraine and Georgia along the Black Sea.

More frequent bomber rotations exercise a "dynamic force employment," according to Gen. Timothy Ray, head of AFGSC.

They "bring long-range precision strike into any theater ... along with our allies," he told reporters during a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington, D.C., in April.

When asked whether Russia should take into account that additional U.S. bomber deployments are expected to the theater, Ray said, "The world should take [that] into account."

With increased global competition from Russia in Europe and China in the Pacific, agility "is something we need to be very good at," he added.

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

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