October 06, 2020

Flexing in the Arctic

Capt. Brian Hudanich, a B-2 pilot assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing, took off from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., June 18 for a 25-hour, two-ship bomber sortie across the Atlantic Ocean. They flew north of the Arctic Circle, met up with a KC-135 from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, U.K.—refueled, rendezvoused with two Norwegian F-35 strike fighters off the coast of Norway for interoperability training, and returned home—all without ever seeing the sunset.

No B-2 Spirit ever flew so far north.

It was the second time in three months the nuclear-capable bomber flew in the Arctic, and one of at least five missions U.S. strategic bombers conducted with Norway between March and June. 

“The Arctic is a strategic region with growing geopolitical and global importance,” explained Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander. “These Bomber Task Force missions demonstrate our commitment to our partners and allies and our capability to deter, assure, and defend together in an increasingly complex environment. The integration of our bombers across Europe and the Arctic is key to enhancing regional security.”

The increasingly congested and contested Arctic region is only becoming more important. Russia is building up its miliary presence in the region; China, though it has no territorial claim there, presents itself as an Arctic nation as the receding polar ice cap opens up sea lanes and opportunities for oil and mineral exploration. Climate change also creates the potential for increased rescue operations, said Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett, during a virtual rollout of the Department of the Air Force’s first-ever Arctic Strategy on July 21.