Four US Air Force B-1 bombers and approximately 200 personnel from Dyess Air Force in Texas are being deployed to Orland Air Base in Norway, and within the next three weeks, missions will begin in the Arctic Circle and in international airspace off northwestern Russia, according to multiple defense officials.
Until now, military missions over the Arctic had been largely staged out of the United Kingdom. The movement of forces much closer to Russia means the US will be able to react more quickly to potential Russia aggression, officials say.
“Operational readiness and our ability to support allies and partners and respond with speed is critical to combined success,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa.
For the last several months, the Pentagon has operated similar groups of B-52 bombers in the Middle East as a means of demonstrating the ability of the US to quickly move military assets to potentially tense regions. These bombers missions take weeks to plan so the Norway deployment has been in the works for some time, officials say.
The Defense Department has been deeply concerned about Russian military moves to shut off potential access to the Arctic for natural resources and maritime access as it continues to militarize the Arctic region.
“Recent Russian investments in the Arctic include a network of offensive air assets and coastal missile systems,” warned Barbara Barrett, secretary of the Air Force during the Trump administration when the Air Force made public how it would deal with the Arctic last summer. The US assesses that Russia considers maintaining its own Arctic access increasingly vital with almost 25% of its gross domestic product coming from hydrocarbons north of the Arctic Circle, Barrett indicated.
A Russian fighter jet flew low near the USS Donald Cook, a naval destroyer, in the international waters of the Black Sea last month.
The US Navy routinely sails in those waters to send the message it will maintain maritime access in the region.
The encounter was relatively minor but the Navy issued a statement saying “the unnecessary proximity of the Russian Su-24’s actions were inconsistent with good airmanship and international norms and standards. The US Sixth Fleet is committed to maintaining freedom of movement within international waters for all nations in the Black Sea.”