US Strategic Command announced on Wednesday that the aircraft would depart from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota on Thursday for the third year in a row to participate in BALTOPS (Baltic Operations) annual exercises. The US-led drills, which were first held in 1971, will see about 6,100 maritime, air force and ground troops from 15 NATO member states, as well as Sweden and Finland, engaging in various types of maritime operations focused on defending the Baltic region from potential threats.
“Integrating strategic bombers with multi-national operations in a variety of scenarios enhances the readiness and capability of US and NATO military forces, which is vital to global security,” Adm. Cecil D. Haney, U.S. Strategic Command commander, said a statement Thursday.
The massive aircraft, 159 feet (48.4m) in length and with a wingspan of about 185 feet (56m), will also participate in NATO’s Saber Strike drills that are being held in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia from May 30 to June 22. Some 10,000 troops from 13 NATO countries, including Poland, Germany, France and the UK, plus some non-member states, are among its participants.
The B-52s will be also involved in US Africa Command’s Just Hammer exercises, the statement reads.
Russia has repeatedly expressed its concerns over the increased presence of NATO troops close to its borders, with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that Moscow would have to respond with “a series of predictable, systematic and consecutive steps… to safeguard its security interests” in the light of NATO’s hostile moves.
The news of the bombers’ dispatch comes just two weeks after a B-52 aircraft crashed at Anderson US Air Force Base in Guam during an ordinary training exercise. The plane aborted its takeoff and caught fire. There were no casualties as the result of the incident, as all the crew members managed to eject safely.
The last time the B-52s took part in NATO’s training missions was during the Norway-led Cold Response exercises and the Serpentex air support drills at Corsica, France, in March.