B-1s Deploy to Saudi Arabia

A B-1B from the 34th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth AFB, S.D., taxis after landing at Prince Sultan AB, Saudi Arabia, on Oct. 25, 2019. AFCENT video screenshot.

An undisclosed number of B-1B Lancer bombers touched down at Prince Sultan AB, Saudi Arabia, their first deployment to the Middle East since they left the region in March. Their arrival marks a major addition of combat power to the newly opened location.

The B-1s flew directly to the base from Ellsworth AFB, S.D., in a deployment that “demonstrates PSAB’s ability to conduct combat ops,” Air Forces Central Command said on Twitter. A video showed one of the Lancers touching down, with no additional information on the size of the contingent or length of deployment. A video from Air Force Global Strike Command shows at least four B-1s from the 34th Bomb Squadron taking off from Ellsworth.

The Lancers join a growing US presence at the Saudi base, including F-22s, Navy E/A-18Gs, and Patriot air defense systems. The Pentagon announced earlier this month that two fighter squadrons, an air expeditionary wing, more Patriot batteries, and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System would also deploy to the country.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper visited the base on Oct. 22, where he said the deployments are to “help defend our allies, second, to deter Iran so we don’t have increasingly bad behavior, and third, to defend the international rules based order.”

This marks the first deployment to the region since B-1s from Dyess AFB, Texas, returned home in March—the first time Lancers were not in the Middle East in 18 years. Shortly after, the fleet was briefly grounded. Sustained combat operations, including flying in ways that the Lancer wasn’t designed for, led to structural issues and other problems with the aircraft that prompted Air Force Global Strike Command to slow operations and increase maintenance. At one point, the bomber’s mission-capable rate was in the single digits.

“You think it wouldn’t be a demanding environment, but it turns out it puts stresses on the airplane you don’t anticipate,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a recent interview.