Moderator: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. European Media Hub in Brussels. I’d like to welcome our participants dialing in from around the world and thank all of you for joining this discussion.
Today we are pleased to be joined by U.S. Air Force Colonel Kurt Wendt, Commander, 501st Support Air Wing; and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Schoeneberg, Commander of 393rd Bomb Squadron. Thank you both, Colonel Wendt and Lieutenant Colonel Schoeneberg, for taking the time to speak to us today.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Colonel Wendt and Lieutenant Colonel Schoeneberg. We will try to get to as many questions as possible during the time that we have which is about 25 minutes today. A reminder, that toady’s call is on the record.
With that, I will turn it over to our Air Force speakers to talk a little bit about their mission and how it helps reinforce security cooperation with our European allies and partners. Since there are two of you, please remember to identify yourself when one of you is speaking or answers a question. Thank you.
Colonel Wendt: Thank you. Good afternoon. This is Colonel Kurt Wendt, Commander of the 501st Combat Support Wing. Thank you for taking time to join us today.
On behalf of our team at the 501st Combat Support Wing and United States Air Forces in Europe, I’m pleased to talk with you today about the Bomber Task Force deployment currently operating out of one of our wing’s seven installations, RAF Fairford in Western England.
I’d also like to welcome the Bomber Task Force Commander from the 509th Bomb Wing, Lieutenant Colonel Rob “Spartan” Schoeneberg who is on the line with me today.
The 509th Bomb Wing’s presence and partnership with us here is truly a testament to the United States commitment to our allies and partners through the global employment of our military forces.
This Bomber Task Force deployment is significant as we welcome the mighty B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and its team of airmen from the 509th Bomb Wing back to our installation and to the European theater. Enabling global strike for the U.S. and NATO operations is one of three key mission sets for the 501st and it’s what RAF Fairford was built to accomplish.
Since its origin supporting D-Day operations 75 years ago, RAF Fairford has a storied legacy of generating both American and British missions across the globe to ensure security and stability in an otherwise unstable world.
Today supporting forward deployed bomber task force aircraft here, and providing a place for their units to live, train and fight with our allies and partners is one of the key ways we continue to make that happen.
RAF Fairford will continue to be a critical asset for USAFE operations as the European theater’s premier bomber forward operating location. The airmen and civilians on this installation along with the 2,000 professionals across the 501st are proud to be a part of this critical mission and we’re ready to help accomplish any objective.
In a year of great historical significance as we celebrate the 70th Anniversary of NATO and the 75th Anniversary of RAF Fairford, this Bomber Task Force is just one example of the U.S. Air Force remaining engaged, postured and ready with credible force to assure, deter and defend in an increasingly complex security environment.
This deployment of combat air power is a visual example of our commitment. The U.S. and Europe must preserve that commitment and trust in each other as we face emerging maligned forces and evolving strategic challenges. This B-2 deployment should remind any potential adversary, whether it be a nation, a violent extremist organization, or any other bad actor, that the United States of America can apply combat power any time, any place.
Our team looks forward to ensuring this as we support the operations, partner integration and well-being of the bomber task force during their time here in the United Kingdom.
Thank you once again for your attendance today.
Lieutenant Colonel Schoeneberg: Good afternoon. This is Lieutenant Colonel Rob “Spartan” Schoeneberg. I’m the Commander of the 393rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and the Commander of the B-2 Bomber Task Force currently deployed to Fairford, England.
Thank you, Colonel Wendt for welcoming and hosting our entire Bomber Task Force team and the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. We are honored to return to Royal Air Force Fairford, England. These Bomber Task Force deployments enable the B-2 and our total force crew of airmen to maintain readiness, proficiency and validate our always ready global strike capabilities.
Our Royal Air Force friends are integral to the 509th Bomb Wing mission. The beauty of our partnership is that we get to understand how they see the world. Working alongside international 5th generation aircraft provides us unique training opportunities; it bolsters our integration capabilities; and showcases the commitment we have towards the NATO Alliance.
The men and women assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing are also the caretakers of a rich heritage that traces back to World War II. We are thrilled to be forward deployed to Fairford during our proud time, as mentioned, in Royal Air Force history and to showcase our interoperability to our allies and your community.
There is simply no substitute for our forward presence in Europe. It is the bedrock of our ability to assure our allies, respond to threats as required, and ensure support to global operations.
Thank you again for your hospitality. We look forward to our continued partnership with the United States Air Forces in Europe, Air Forces Africa, the 501st Combat Support Wing, and the Royal Air Force.
Moderator: Thank you very much for those remarks. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.
Our first question comes from Rafal Lesiecki from TVN24.
Question: My name’s Rafal Lesiecki. I’m from Poland, from TVN24.pl. I have two questions.
The first one, how long those three B-2s will stay in Europe? And the second question, do you plan any involvement in Polish airspace or with Polish Air Force, maybe in Polish air base? Thank you very much.
Lieutenant Colonel Schoeneberg: This is Lieutenant Colonel Rob Schoeneberg. If it’s all right with you, sir I’ll take that first question, first two questions.
The B-2 bombers are temporarily deployed to RAF Fairford, England until our mission is complete or are tasked otherwise to go home. The bomber deployment will include joint and allied training to improve our operability. We’ll train with our joint partners, allied nations and other Air Force assets until that time concludes.
As far as your second question, sir, for operational security reasons we cannot discuss the specific locations of where our aircraft are flying, as you might understand. However, U.S. Air Force bombers will fly and conduct missions throughout Europe in international airspace or over sovereign territory after coordination with and approval from respective nations.
I can say that the B-52 Stratofortress here at Fairford, not a part of the Bomber Task Force, are participating in exercises Ample Strike, Covert Warrior, and the NATO Days.
Moderator: Our next question was submitted in advance from Nicholas Fiorenza with Jane’s Defence Weekly in the UK. His question is:
Question: How close to Russia are the B-2s flying? And what measures are being implemented to prevent incident with the Russians?
Lieutenant Colonel Schoeneberg: This is Lieutenant Colonel Schoeneberg again. Obviously for operational security reasons we cannot discuss the specific locations where our B-2 aircraft are flying. Again, we are flying in international airspace. We are flying in accordance with international procedures and respective from all nations we are flying over, we have their approval.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that.
We also have a question submitted in advance from Yuri Lapaiev from The Ukrainian Week. His question is:
Question: Russian military plans often violate NATO airspace in Europe. How will you deal with this issue? And are there any effective means to prevent such Russian behavior?
Colonel Wendt: This is Colonel Wendt. I’ll take that question.
Thank you, Yuri, that’s a great question. Really, I would keep our focus on the Bomber Task Force missions for NATO. I would refer you to NATO Allied Air Command Public Affairs. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you for that.
We have a long question from Dmytro Shkurko with the National News Agency of Ukraine. His question is:
Question: There is little space for massive and indiscriminate blows in the circumstances of modern hybrid war, and extremely difficult to see lines of division between allies and rivals. What is the practical sense for B-2 training? If an attack happens, it would be over European soil so whom are you training to bomb?
Colonel Wendt: This is Colonel Wendt. I’ll take that question. I would say the mission of the Bomber Task Force is to assure our allies, to assure our partners including all of our NATO allies, that the United States is here, and the United States is here to stand by your side. And it’s meant to deter potential adversaries.
We don’t necessarily look to deter any specific groups, nations, organizations. We are here to deter any potential adversary. But our focus is to assure our partners and to train and work on the interoperability with our NATO Alliance.
Moderator: Thank you very much, Colonel.
I’m going to invoke the moderator’s privilege and ask our two Air Force officers if this program is sort of a one-off or if you envision carrying these out on a regular basis over the course of the next year or two?
Colonel Wendt: This is Colonel Wendt. I would say from European Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe, the Bomber Task Force is an enduring program, so we anticipate future opportunities to host bombers for the Bomber Task Force.
Moderator: Thank you very much, Colonel.
It looks like we have a quiet group today. There are no other questions in the queue. If you’d like to make some closing remarks, I think at this point we can maybe wrap things up, unless you have any closing remarks.
Colonel Wendt: This is Colonel Wendt. I’ll defer first to Colonel Schoeneberg if he has any.
Lieutenant Colonel Schoeneberg: Thank you, sir. This is Lieutenant Colonel Schoeneberg. Again, thanks to all the international partners that allow this kind of BTF to happen. Thanks to Colonel Wendt and his team for their support and for all the changes and work they’ve done on RAF Fairford to make it the premier location for us as a bomber to forward deploy.
I will tell you as a Commander of a squadron that is constantly thinking about the next threat and where we go next, a mission like this allows me to make sure my air crew are familiar with the air spaces. They are familiar with the base that they may fight from some day. They get used to different geographic combatant commands. They integrate with a wide variety of NATO players and international allies that that communication will build upon should a war come to be. It builds their proficiency, it builds their confidence, and it helps us to execute decisive actions when and if needed and called upon to do so.
We are so thrilled to be here. We have enjoyed the time that we’ve been here. And I look forward to the next few days of training, the next few weeks of time that we’re here for all of the changes that we’re making and better preparing us for combat.
Moderator: Thank you very much, Colonel. Colonel Wendt?
Colonel Wendt: Thank you. I would say this is a great opportunity, as any Bomber Task Force is, for us to engage with our partners. Our partners from the 509th Bomb Wing, Colonel Schoeneberg and his team have been just an outstanding group to have here at RAF Fairford with us.
It’s also an opportunity to engage with our international partners.
As I mentioned, this is how we assure our NATO Alliance that we are here. The United States is here to stand by your side. This is how we train and work with our international partners. This is, as the Bomber Task Force Commander said, this is how we get better. This is how we train so that we are ready for anything.
And at the end of the day, every day that we have peace on the European continent is a day that we’re doing our job right. So we’re happy to host the Bomber Task Force and we look forward to future opportunities. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you very much for those remarks, Colonel Wendt. I’d like to thank both of our Air Force speakers for joining us today and thank all of the reporters on the line for participating and for your questions.