B-52s Fly Bomber Task Force Mission Over CENTCOM With Israeli, Saudi Fighters

Two B-52H Stratofortresses flew over the Middle East on Nov. 10 in the latest demonstration of American air power in the region. U.S. partners also participated, escorting the bombers with fighter jets and helping coordinate the mission.

Bomber task forces (BTF) routinely deploy around the world in the place of a U.S. permanent bomber presence. The recent BTF mission in the Middle East, however, comes at a time of increased tension in the region. According to media reports, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have intelligence indicating Iran may be planning an attack against Saudi Arabia, which hosts U.S. forces. The B-52s involved in the BTF mission are assigned to the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

“This Bomber Task Force is a clear reflection of enduring U.S. commitment to the region,” Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, commander of Air Forces Central (AFCENT), said in a statement announcing the mission. “Together with our partners, we can rapidly inject overwhelming combat power into our common operating area.”

The U.S. also recently deployed F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility. F-22s have previously been called into the CENTCOM region to assure partner nations in response to threats from Iran and its proxy forces. B-52s from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., participated in a BTF mission over the CENTCOM area in September.

“In this dynamic environment, no one can go it alone, and each BTF we execute allows us to deepen interoperability and practice key operational tasks with our allies and partners,” Grynkewich added.

The mission involved U.S. forces along with 13 partner air forces, according to CENTCOM, though the command declined to provide specific details of each nation’s participation. The Israel Defense Forces and Royal Saudi Air Force publicized their involvement in the mission, which included fighter escorts of the B-52s, in separate statements. Israeli and Saudi aircraft did not fly together and joined the B-52s at different points in the mission.

Grynkewich, who took command of AFCENT in July, has stressed that he wants to increase the participation of allied forces with the U.S., particularly at the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.

The CAOC, or 609th AOC as the center is also known, coordinates air operations in the region. U.S. Air Force and coalition partners support Operation Inherent Resolve, the counter-ISIS campaign, and fly missions to protect U.S. forces on the ground. The U.S. and its allies also conduct counter-drone exercises, among other missions. The bomber task force adds another element to help improve coordination, the senior Canadian officer at the CAOC said.

“The 609th Air Operations Center has witnessed an exponential increase in partner nation integration and cooperation with respect to day-to-day operations as a result of the coalition teamwork derived from the execution of BTF missions,” Royal Canadian Air Force Lt. Col. Terry Wong said in a statement.

Wong said BTF missions would continue.

“We are both enthusiastic and optimistic that future BTF missions will continue this trend of collaboration and solidarity,” he added.

The Israeli Air Force escorted the B-52s over Israeli air space with two F-35I Adir fifth-generation fighters. The IDF said its participation was part of “increasing cooperation” with the U.S. military. Israel came under CENTCOM’s area of responsibility in 2021 and deepened security ties with some Arab states in the region.

The Biden administration has said it will reevaluate the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia following the kingdom’s move to keep oil prices high as part of the OPEC+ cartel. For now, the U.S. has stressed that it will continue military cooperation with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense released photos of two F-15 and two Typhoon fighters flying with at least one B-52 over Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Ministry of Defense said in a tweet that the sortie shows “the joint work between the two forces to contribute to efforts to enhance security and stability of the region.” Saudi Arabia also completed a weeklong maritime exercise dubbed “Nautical Defender” with the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and the U.K. Royal Navy. The drill, which concluded Nov. 7, involved training events ashore and in the Arabian Gulf, with participation from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army, and Coast Guard and multiple U.S. vessels, including a guided missile destroyer.