Three B-52 bombers returned to their home base in Louisiana on Sunday after a short deployment at Eielson Air Force Base, where they were used for training missions over the Beaufort Sea and Sea of Japan. Air Force officials say the B-52s were deployed to Eielson to demonstrate that the base can be used to launch long-range missions to just about anywhere around the Pacific Ocean and Asia.
The three slate-gray bombers temporarily assigned to Eielson have been busy pretty much since they flew in about 10 days ago. Soon after arrival, one of the B-52s went north to train with U.S. and Canadian fighter pilots over the Beaufort Sea to practice intercepting Russian aircraft that regularly fly near Alaskan airspace.
Then last week, two of the bombers flew in the opposite direction to train with U.S. and Japanese pilots over the Sea of Japan.
“They happened to go toward the Sea of Japan, but they could have easily gone over the pole to the European theater if they needed to, or even further on, if need be,” says Col. Dave Skalicky, commander of the 354th Operations Group at Eielson.
Skalicky says the bombers’ far-flung training missions also demonstrate Eielson’s strategic location as an air-power hub from which aircraft can reach just about anywhere around the Pacific and Indian oceans – the so-called Indo-Pacific Region.
“You’re equidistant from many places in the continental United States, to places in Europe, to places in the Indo-Pacific and Asia regions,” he said. “You can get there in a single sortie with a bomber, with a fighter, with whatever aircraft that you want.”
Air Force officials say the three B-52s from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana were brought to Eielson as part of an initiative to fly more missions around the Indo-Pacific region from different air bases located in the United States and overseas.
It's the first time B-52s have been deployed to Alaska since 2017. Five of the Cold War-era bombers were sent to Eielson in 2018 from Andersen Air Base, Guam, as a "super-typhoon" was bearing down on the island in the western Pacific Ocean.
A Pacific Air Forces news release says this month's training with the three B-52s operating out of Eielson was intended to, quote “enhance the readiness and security” of the region. Skalicky says that’s also basically the reason the Air Force has assigned two squadrons of F-35s to Eielson.
“So as we grow this F-35 mission, now the U.S. has the ability to put that capability anywhere on the globe, from here,” he said.
But it may be difficult to identify Eielson as the base from which future missions will be launched, because both the Air Force and North American Aerospace Defense Command routinely decline to identify installations from which U.S. aircraft have been launched to intercept foreign aircraft that fly near Alaskan airspace.