A pair of B-1B Lancer bombers passed through the Arctic Circle last Friday en route to a training mission with the Norwegian air force.
The B-1s, took off from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, crossed over the North Pole and were refueled in the Arctic during the 16-hour, 3,100-nautical mile sortie, the Air Force said in a Wednesday release. They spent several hours training with Norwegian forces, including a pair of F-16V Fighting Falcons, off the coast of Greenland and over the Norwegian Sea.
The bombers are part of the 345th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, and their home station is at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.
The Air Force said the bomber task force mission showed its ability to carry out complex operations in multiple locations with NATO allies and partners. And the ability to operate in the Arctic is necessary to support the military’s mission in Europe, and the National Defense Strategy focusing on fighting near-peer nations in Asia and Europe instead of militant groups in the Middle East.
“It is about access,” squadron commander Col. Christopher Hawn said in the release. “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.”
The squadron said that training in the Arctic has become increasingly important in recent years, due to the region’s strategic value.
“The harsh conditions and limited access throughout the region make it easy to overlook the value of the Arctic,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Marshall, the squadron’s director of operations. “However, the increase in global competition for access and control of the region solidifies the Arctic’s status as a key territory.”
The U.S. Air Force flew three B-1 heavy bombers over the East Siberian Sea, north of Russia’s far east, as part of a series of recent maneuvers that the military said Friday are meant to demonstrate American capabilities and ability to support allies, but which a top Russian commander blasted as “hostile and provocative.”
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This Arctic training also presented a unique opportunity for B-1 crews. Hawn, who has flown B-1s since 2000, said in the release that he did not recall taking part in any Arctic missions in the B-1s before this mission.
“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,” Hawn said. “The knowledge and experience we have gained can and will be leveraged for immediate and lasting effect in this community.”
The 345th arrived at Eielson on Sept. 10, and has since conducted 16 sorties in seven flying days. The unit is made up of reserve airmen from the 307th Bomb Wing and active-duty airmen from the 7th Bomb Wing.
About Stephen Losey
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.