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More bomber operations mean ‘the chess pieces are moving,’ US Air Force’s top officer

  • The US Air Force’s bomber fleet has been busy, flying frequent missions to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
  • Those flights are to “make sure the chess pieces are moving on a regular basis,” the Air Force chief of staff said.
  • The Air Force has to be “thoughtful” about the messages it sends to adversaries, Gen. Charles Brown said.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The increasing activity of US Air Force bombers is part of a concerted effort to show that those planes can fly whenever and wherever they want, the Air Force’s top officer said last week.

“That’s the capability of global air power … and the ability to operate from and be prepared to go any place, anywhere, any time,” Gen. Charles Brown, Air Force chief of staff, told reporters on Wednesday.

Brown’s comments came in response to a question about this month’s deployment of B-1B bombers to Norway, the first time US bombers have operated from that country.

“Will it happen again in Norway? Probably a good chance. When? It could happen at any time,” Brown said. “This is all about competition, and if I told you exactly when it was going to happen, I’m not going to be competing, because you guys would report it.”

A US Air Force B-1B bomber after arriving at Orland Air Station in Norway for a Bomber Task Force Europe Mission, February 22, 2021.

Norwegian Air Force

US bombers have been conducting shorter deployments overseas and round-trip flights from the US as part of dynamic force employment, a concept in which US forces aim “to be strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable,” Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Middents told Insider in October.

Middents led six B-52 bombers on a five-week bomber task force, or BTF, mission to the UK in August. BTFs are meant to demonstrate that flexibility — during Middents’ five-week mission, the bombers flew all over the region.

Another BTF last spring took B-1Bs over Sweden for the first time. Five times since mid-November, US-based bombers have flown to the Middle East and back on BTFs that US officials say are meant to deter Iran.

Bombers are also more active in the Indo-Pacific region, where the Air Force in early 2020 announced the end of its continuous bomber presence, a 16-year mission during which bombers deployed to Guam for months at a time.

BTF missions have “been really, really successful,” Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, head of Pacific Air Forces, told reporters in November, adding that in the first nine months of BTFs, “we’ve actually flown more of the bomber-type missions than we did in the last nine months of the continuous bomber presence.”

US Navy F/A-18s, Marine Corps F-35s, and an Air Force B-1B during a training exercise in the Indo-Pacific region, August 18, 2020.

Staff Sgt. Peter Reft

The first BTF under the current model was in May, when B-1Bs deployed to Anderson Air Force Base on Guam. Since then, US bombers have operated out of Guam, Diego Garcia, and Alaska, or flown from the US to train…

Read More: More bomber operations mean ‘the chess pieces are moving,’ US Air Force’s top officer

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