America's oldest active bombers will fly in formation across all 30 NATO countries Friday in a single-day mission meant to showcase solidarity with partners and allies, according to an Air Force Global Strike release.
In an operation dubbed "Allied Sky," four B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers, deployed to Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford, U.K., will fly over Europe alongside allies while two bombers from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, fly over the U.S. and Canada, the command said.
NATO nations scheduled to integrate with the Cold War-era bomber aircraft include Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S, the release said.
"U.S. security commitments to the NATO Alliance remain ironclad," said Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command. "Today's bomber task force mission is another example of how the alliance sustains readiness, improves interoperability and demonstrates our ability to deliver on commitments from across the Atlantic."
Called Bomber Task Force, or BTF, missions, the shorter flights -- using two to four bombers -- have been a regular occurrence since the spring as part of the Pentagon's larger "dynamic force employment" strategy for military units to test how nimbly they can move from place to place.
"It gives the appearance that we're in more places and we really are," Maj. Gen. Jim Dawkins Jr., then-commander of the Eighth Air Force and the Joint-Global Strike Operations Center at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, told Military.com in May. Dawkins is now the director of the Global Power Programs at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Acquisition, Technology & Logistics at the Pentagon.
In the last year, officials have planned more, and shorter, strategic bomber rotations -- employing the B-1B Lancer as well as the B-2 Spirit -- to test the Air Force's agility when deploying its heavy aircraft forces around the world while also coordinating flights with overseas counterparts, Dawkins said at the time.
The flights are based "on the timing and tempo of the combatant commanders and how much they request" bombers in their region, he said.
But they are becoming more frequent and, therefore, more standard, Dawkins explained. "There is just so much of a bigger signal sent with a bomber than with a couple of [F-16 Fighting Falcons]. It just is what it is," he said.
The European theater has had a bomber rotation at least once a year as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. EUCOM on Friday said since 2018, the U.S. and allies have conducted more than 200 sorties as part of a BTF mission.
"Operations and engagements with allies and partners serve as cornerstones highlighting USEUCOM's commitment to global security and stability," the release said. "These opportunities also serve as a reminder that, despite ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19, U.S. forces remain fully ready to execute their missions across all domains."
"By further enhancing our enduring relationships, we send a clear message to potential adversaries about our readiness to meet any global challenge," Wolters added.
North American Aerospace Defense Command, which oversees North American operations, said the stealth fighters intercepted three groups of two Tu-142 Russian maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft within the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone, known as the ADIZ, which stretches roughly 200 miles off Alaska's coast.
The patrol aircraft stayed within international airspace, but loitered within the ADIZ for "approximately five hours and came within 50 nautical miles of Alaskan shores," NORAD said in a release.
"Our northern approaches have had an increase in foreign military activity as our competitors continue to expand their military presence and probe our defenses," Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of NORAD, said in a statement.
"This year, we've conducted more than a dozen intercepts, the most in recent years. The importance of our continued efforts to project air defense operations in and through the north has never been more apparent," VanHerck said.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.