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News | June 4, 2020

Aerial refueling: Backbone of long-range Bomber Task Force missions

By Staff Reports USAFE –AFAFRICA Public Affairs

The key to any long-range, long-duration Bomber Task Force mission is ensuring aircraft, both U.S. and NATO, have the proper amount of fuel throughout the flight.

Aerial refueling is critical to the success of these missions. Primarily, the ability for NATO allies to refuel U.S. bombers increases the aerial refueling capability for U.S. forces by reducing the sole burden on U.S. tankers.

For example during a BTF Nordic mission May 20, 2020, a B-1B Lancer from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. flew to the European Theater. In addition to being refueled by a U.S. KC-135 Stratotanker, it was also refueled by a Dutch KDC-10 from the 334th Squadron, Royal Netherlands Air Force Eindhoven Air Base, Netherlands. That non-stop mission traversed 23 hours, and was only possible with inflight refueling.

“Integrating bomber missions with our NATO allies and partners builds enduring relationships that are capable of confronting a broad range of global challenges,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander. “When you see the capability and integration first hand, it is clear we have a force that stands ready to execute the mission.”

In the European theater, there is only one U.S. aerial refueling unit, the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, England, but the ability to receive fuel from NATO allies helps expand further global deterrence.

“The integration and interoperability with our NATO allies during these missions, be it aerial tanker support or fighter escorts, are indelible actions that show the alliance is as strong as I've ever witnessed,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, U.S. European Command commander.

One such example was when Turkish KC-135 Stratotankers enabled the B-1B to complete a round trip from Ellsworth AFB, May 29, 2020, where the B-1B integrated and trained with Polish F-16s and MiG-29s and Romanian F-16s and MiG-21s. The aircraft provided escort and combat patrol overwatch in the Black Sea region. The non-stop mission spanned more than 29 hours and over 12,200 nautical miles.

“Long-range bomber training missions strengthen our steadfast partnerships with allies across both Europe and Africa and showcase our ability to respond globally from anywhere,” said Harrigian.