U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bombers will soon take to the skies over Europe as part of planned Bomber Task Force missions intended to demonstrate resolve against aggression and prepare for any possible warfare contingency. These flights will also enhance U.S.-allied interoperability and demonstrate unmistakable strength intended to safeguard the continent from Russian aggression.
Several B-2s have now arrived a Lajes Field, Portugal and are participating in a range of bomber support missions throughout Europe, a U.S. Air Force report says. The B-2s will join the already present B-1s now operating in the area for additional task force missions, Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces Europe, Africa Command said in the service report.
The arrival of the B-2s mirrors an ongoing series of stepped up U.S.-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) collaborative exercises aimed at expanding the defensive envelope across the European theater. These deterrence missions can extend from areas of Northern Eastern Europe such as the Baltics all the way down to coastal areas bordering the Black Sea and across throughout Western Europe.
Unlike the expansive Pacific where the “tyranny of distance” can complicate mission effectiveness for Bomber Task Force patrols, the more compact and accessible European continent affords greater opportunities for single missions to accomplish a wide sphere of operational objectives.
What might B-2s over Europe bring to any kind of deterrence equation? Certainly, in the event of conflict or the emergence of disturbing intelligence information, a B-2 could conduct high altitude, stealthy bombing missions over enemy territory. A B-2 bomber, arguably perhaps like no other now operational platform, might be in position to conduct decisive first strikes while remaining undetected by enemy surveillance and engagement radar.
Just how effective is the now thirty-year-old B-2 bomber? Could the 1980s-era bomber, originally engineered to defeat Soviet air defenses, be rendered obsolete by advanced Russian air defenses? The topic does receive a lot of attention, and while Russia media reports regularly claim their air-defenses can succeed in countering stealth platforms, it does not seem at all clear that this is, in fact, true. The main reason? Today’s B-2 is arguably fast-becoming an entirely new aircraft due to ongoing multi-year upgrades and technological enhancements. For example, the B-2 is getting a new generation of sensors, called the Defensive Management Systems to help crews in the stealth bomber discern the precise location of enemy air defenses to elude or destroy them. The small fleet of B-2s are now being upgraded with this new technology, a sensor system which will only be improved in operational functionality by a commensurate computer processor upgrade. The B-2 is now getting new processors that are reported by service developers to be 1,000-times faster and more capable than legacy on board systems.
The B-2 is also strengthening is posture as a nuclear deterrent through a series of weapons adaptations to include the integration and testing of a newly upgraded B-61 Mod 12 nuclear bomb, a single upgraded munition able to combine otherwise separate variants of the weapon to incorporate variable blast effects, earth penetrating fusing technologies. The B-2, therefore, not only threatens to render Russian air defenses ineffective but could also, in the event of conflict, help open up a safer “air corridor” for less stealthy planes such as drones, fixed-wing surveillance planes or fighter jets.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.