Moderator: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. European Media Hub in Brussels. I’d like to welcome all of you for dialing in from around the world and thank you for joining this discussion.
Today we are pleased to be joined by Lieutenant General Steven L. Basham, Deputy Commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe and Africa. General Basham is an Air Force commander with more than 3,400 pilot hours flying the B-1 Lancer, the B-2 Spirit, and the B-52 Strata Fortress. He’s here to discuss the Bomber Task Force and B-2 strategic stealth bombers currently operating at RAF Fairford, England. Thank-you, General Basham, for taking the time to speak to us today.
I understand that we have two journalists on the line — Robin Emmott with Reuters and Nicholas Fiorenza with Jane’s. So this is not like one of our normal calls. Your lines are open. It’s sort of like a press roundtable.
I’d like to hand it over to General Basham for opening remarks and then we’ll have a Q&A for about 20 minutes or so.
With that, I’m going to hand this over to General Basham.
Lt. Gen. Basham: Okay, Justin. Thank you very much. I appreciate the quick introduction. And I also appreciate the Department of State and Brussels Media Hub actually putting this together. So thank-you.
Let me also say thanks to right now Nicholas and Robin for being on-line, and if Dr. de Lara is able to make it I’ll look forward to having her as well.
I’m going to spend just a few minutes talking to you about the Bomber Task Force. And I do like to think that I have a unique experience as a bomber aviator, with having flown all three bombers. Those are missions I’ve flown inside the continental United States, missions I’ve flown from the United States to other parts of the world to employ the aircraft and fly it right back to the United States, as well as I’ve deployed and fought with the B-2. So, I look forward to your questions.
What I would highlight right now is just a couple of things. You’re very well aware, I’m sure, that the B-2 is from Whiteman Air Force Base, the 509th Bomb Wing. They’re deployed to Fairford. We appreciate the great support of our hosts in the UK as well as the great support of our own 501st Combat Support Wing for taking great care of the bombers, the B-2s.
There are a couple of first’s that are going on right now, and maybe some of your questions will ask the significance of this. First of all, the ability to not only be able to not only go to Fairford, but be able to recover our B-2s into Iceland, into Keflavik; and the Azores into Lajes; for just a short period of time, to be able to do a “hot pit” refueling. That’s another way of saying to be able to land, stay on the ground for just a short amount of time, keep the engines running, refuel those aircraft and get them right back airborne. We might even swap out crews, depending where we are and what we’re actually doing.
That’s all part of our dynamic force employment. The ability to be able to operate from multiple foreign locations for the collective defense capability we can provide U.S. and NATO. That’s strategic and operational breadth needed to deter adversaries and ensure our allies and partners.
I’d also highlight a significant event, the fact that we’re actually using our B-2s to operate with partner F-35s. In this particular case, the Royal Air Force F-35Bs. It’s important not only as certainly a NATO ally, but the ability to be able to operate 5th generation fighters with 5th generation stealth technology. The synergies that you actually gain from being able to put those two together — not just from an interoperability standpoint, but the force multiplier you get from their respective stealth and precision capabilities.
Of course, I’d also highlight that as we’re talking today, we’ve also got B-2s that are working with our 4th Gen capability, our F-15Cs flying out of Lakenheath. They’re flying up around the Norwegian Sea, again to promote regional stability.
Everything that we’re doing right now is all about readiness of not only our B-2s, but quite honestly, our force writ large. You can’t have readiness without focusing on truly that bedrock of resiliency and a capable air force. And to be ready means that you have to be fully interoperable, not just with our B-2s but also our maintainers, also our 4th Generation assets, and those locations where the aircraft are going to deploy to such as Fairford.
And of course, the challenges of today and tomorrow require our airmen to be ready to respond not only as a part of a joint operation, certainly a coalition operation, and certainly a multinational team in the multi-domain environment we live in today.
So, one more time let me say thank-you for being on today. And if I could, just before I close out here before questions, I’d like to say thanks. Because as journalists, you truly do bring a level of transparency and accountability that helps connect the United States Air Force not only to the American people but also to our international audiences. So, you allow us to share some of the key successes, our challenges, and of course it’s an accolade to our remarkable men and women in the United States Air Force that actually make this happen. So, thanks to you for taking the time to spend a few minutes with me.
With that, I’ll turn it over to you for questions.
Moderator: Thank you, General. Just a reminder to our callers that this conversation is on the record. With that, I’d like to open it up for questions now.
Question: This is Nick Fiorenza from Jane’s in London. Thanks for this opportunity, General, to ask some questions about this deployment.
When I first wrote about it, I think a spokesperson from your command was saying that there was no, that there’s also B-52 deployment. I’m just wondering, the spokesperson said there was no connection between the B-2 and the B-52 deployment. I’m just trying to get an idea of what the difference is between the two deployments.
Is one of the reasons they’re separate is because we’re talking about two completely different generations of bombers?
Lt. Gen. Basham: No, as a matter of fact, actually Nick that’s a great question. I don’t know, and I’m not sure who said that they’re not connected. I don’t know that I would ever say they’re not connected. What I would say is everything that we do, when we bring our bombers forward as well as when fly missions out of the continental United States to different regions of the world and back to the United States, we are always promoting not only the synergistic effect of working with our allies and partners, but overall training for those crews.
In this particular case, the fact that we’ve got not only the B-2s but a B-52 here. The B-52 is actually from Barksdale Air Force Base. It’s our Reserve unit down there. So that’s a shout-out to our total force team. And of course, they’ll come in and work with different joint partners. The Navy in this particular case. And the B-2s are specifically here for a period of time to be able to work many different opportunities.
We have a limited white space on the calendar. White space is another way of saying that the amount of time that the units can actually come over to the theater to get an introduction to the facilities they’re going to be working in, the airspace they’re going to be flying in, and the allies that they’re going to be working with. So we just take advantage of each and every opportunity.
In this particular case, you can imagine those B-52 crews, B-2 crews, as well as the fighter communities are interacting with each other. Are they here for a specific reason to be here together? No. I would just say the timing worked out great, but we take advantage of that learning.
Question: I just found the exact language – in fact it was they were “not part of the same Bomber Task Force”. That’s not exactly the same thing as not being connected. So they are actually coordinating also, I suppose, in some of the activities.
And then really what my question was also getting at is, is the B-2 to demonstrate just the nuclear deterrence? Or is the B-52, I was wondering if there might be a division of responsibility with maybe the B-52s doing conventional missions versus a nuclear for the B-2.
Lt. Gen. Basham: No, actually Nick what I would offer is that the B-2 and the B-52 are both performing their assurance, deterrence, and proving the combat capability of the aircraft. I wouldn’t say it’s nuclear or conventional in this particular case. Of course, the nuclear mission falls under the United States Strategic Command and the bombers are always ready to go. And that’s primarily from within the United States. However, from a conventional capability and a true assurance and deterrence capability, both the B-52 and the B-2 would be over here not only to assure our allies that we’re absolutely committed to regional stability, but it is meant to say that we’re fully integrated with our allies and our partners and to deter. And quite honestly, we have to understand that should deterrence fail, we’ve got to have forces that are postured to be able to provide that blunt force to stop any potential adversary, and the only way you can do that is to make sure that you prove the ability to be able to come from the United States into theater, potentially hold adversaries at risk, hold targets at risk, and then recover into the theater, and then turn that aircraft quickly, which is what we demonstrated by turning the aircraft in Iceland. And when I say turning the aircraft, that’s the simple way of saying putting gas on the aircraft and getting it right back airborne so that it can stay in the fight. Doing the same thing down in the Azores area.
So I would say right now our focus is absolutely on the conventional side, but it is support to NATO and of course those forces are always ready for the strategic mission under USSTRATCOM.
Question: Hello, Robin Emmott from Reuters, here.
My question, just a bit more detail about the training. Could you just run us through when this particular mission started, how long it’s been going, when it ends?
And you mentioned just then a couple of examples of the Azores and Iceland. Do you have any other examples of what you’ve been doing?
Lt. Gen. Basham: I’ll talk to you just from the timeframe that we’ve been planning the Bomber Task Force Mission. We’ll typically stay away from specific timelines as to what we’re doing, and of course that goes to all the Bomber Task Force.
I would tell you though, that once we’re in theater, while we don’t necessarily talk about timelines, we have several things that are actually taking place.
If I could just expand a little bit on exactly what’s going on with the F-35s. Certainly when you’re going to fly with another stealth platform or in this case a 5th Generation platform, it allows you the ability to be able to use two aircraft that complement each other very well.
As an example, the capabilities of the F-35 can hold certain key targets at risk that might be a threat to most conventional assets, but when you take the F-35 and you couple that with the stealth technology of the B-2, the long range and precision weapon capability of the B-2, not to mention the heavy payload, the ability to be able to carry numerous weapons, you actually create a capability where in a short amount of time you can hold many targets at risk. So I’ll just use that as an example of one of the things that the B-2s doing with the F-35.
And I can’t say it enough, when we start talking about a blunt force, the ability to be able to come into theater, spend time with your allies working with them, not only do you get to do that face to face debrief or briefing and debrief, but then you also get to learn from each other.
So once again, I’ve talked about the blunt force being in theater, but you also have a maneuver force. I think some would think that our bombers are held to just one operating location, in this particular case, maybe Fairford. Certainly not the case. So the ability to be able to take an aircraft like the B-2 that can carry a large number of weapons, can actually expend some of those weapons but maybe not all, and then to turn around and recover in a different location, refuel the aircraft, and then go back airborne, can hold targets at risk in many different areas. And of course, we’re talking about an aircraft that can stay airborne for a long, long time with the endurance capability.
So I offer that as maybe two examples, if that helps. If not, keep right on asking. I’ll provide many more.
And to that line I would say, again, I have a unique perspective. I’ve operated in all three aircraft and I see the capabilities of all three. Sometimes we’re just able to scratch the surface on a deployment such as the Bomber Task Force right now.
Question: Thank you, General. I understand that you can’t go into details about the timing, but I do remember that in March NATO let us know that you’d sent six B-52 bombers to Britain for some training. I know that the U.S. has deployed strategic bombers in Europe at least once a year since 2014. This would then suggest this is at least the second time the training in the European Theater. Is that correct?
Also, are you stepping up these kind of training in-theater in Europe because of readiness? Thank you.
Lt. Gen. Basham: Robin, that’s exactly right.
The B-52 deployment that we did in the spring timeframe followed quickly by a B-2 Bomber Task Force, and I would offer that I would anticipate seeing this more often. We’ve certainly, we appreciate the host inside our European theater, not only U.S. European Command but certainly the countries that we operate with, and as long as they continue to ask for more, we certainly want to make sure we’re coming forward.
We look forward to not only the B-2 fleet and the B-52 fleet, but, at some point in time, being able to bring our B-1s back into theater. So I would say you should probably expect to see bombers more often than less.
Question: Just one last question on that. So, we’ve seen the INF Treaty fall away because of Russian lack of compliance. Would you say from where you stand that these kind of overflights and training in theater are more necessary as deterrence because of the collapse of that treaty? Thank-you.
Lt. Gen. Basham: Robin, I don’t think I’d attribute it to the collapse of the INF Treaty. What I would offer is, we know that the only way that we’re going to be prepared and ready to fight today, tomorrow, is to actually train closely with our allies and partners. And that’s on many fronts. We need to not only be connected to them in how we do command and control and how we are interoperable, how we integrate with each other. We need to be able to train with them at multiple different locations as we become more of a maneuver force.
And, of course, we’re a multi-domain force. It’s using our space capabilities with our land capabilities, with our naval component, and you can’t do that from inside the United States. You have to be able to come over to the theater to do that. And like I said, I wouldn’t tie it to any particular treaty other than certainly standing right beside our NATO partners, and we need to make sure we fully understand that the way you have skin in the game here is to actually deploy to the theater.
So I’m excited about the opportunities that lay ahead as we continue, you’ve heard discussion of the European Deterrence Initiative, the ability to be able to continue bringing forces even through a rotational basis as we are with the Bomber Task Force, bringing them forward more often, looking for more opportunities, and United States Air Forces in Europe is a key catalyst, of course, to that, the ability to be able to bring many different nations together in many different exercises.
Question: I was just wondering — this Is Nick Fiorenza again — about the other aircraft which are operating together with the B-2s. The F-35s, the RAF F-35s, and I guess U.S. F-15s. Are they actually operating together as, let’s say, a joint strike package? Or are the F-35s and F-15s also, could they be, are they being used to practice escorting? I don’t know if you’d need to do that.
And then maybe related to that possibility of escort, have you encountered any Russian, have the B-2s encountered any Russian aircraft maybe flying close by?
Lt. Gen. Basham: Let me touch on how the 4th Generation, our F-15Cs, our F-15 Eagle flying out of Lakenheath would integrate with the B-2, then I’ll touch on the F-35. Then we’ll talk about any reflection other countries may have. In this particular case, you asked about any reflection from Russia.
Actually, I’ll go backwards. We’ve had no interactions between Russian aircraft and the B-2 that I’m certainly aware of.
I would offer that we appreciate any time other countries are very aware that we’re here, and in the case of Russia, we’re confident that they’re always paying attention.
What I would offer on the way you want to use your 5th Generation capability and your 4th Generation capability in the case of using a stealth platform like the B-2 and the F-15C, they are together in a strike package, but it might not be that traditional strike package that you’re thinking about where they’re really close to each other and they come in together. You play off the key capabilities of each of those aircraft and it is, the F-15Cs are designed to set the stage for the B-2, whether using some type of standoff weapon or even a direct attack weapon. You’re using those F-15Cs to kind of make an opening for the B-2 to be able to do its job. Then you turn around and you use maybe the F-35, in this case maybe working with RAF’s F-35s and how they would actually, maybe, do it a little bit different.
In both cases, we want to make sure that we’re ready for a full spectrum of conflict that could occur. So you never take anything for granted. You make sure that you’ve got every asset at your disposal, that you’ve worked with each one of those, and of course it means working on the ground as well. You have to go back to it’s not just that which occurs in the air, but it’s the support that’s required on the ground. And the only way to do that is you have to put hands on the aircraft.
So that’s where going to Iceland, going over to the Azores, spending time certainly at Fairford has been extremely helpful.
Moderator: General, I’m sensitive of your time. I just wanted to sort of check in and see if you’ve got time for another question or two, or if maybe it’s time to wrap it up with some remarks of yours.
Lt. Gen. Basham: Justin, I’ll offer if there’s another question, I’ve got still about three or four minutes so I’m very happy to take any other questions.
Moderator: Okay, back to the reporters. Any follow-ups here?
Question: Robin Emmott from Reuters again.
A quick question. You mentioned readiness. That’s certainly a hot topic at NATO HQ in Brussels. What’s your sense of the overall readiness of NATO allies that you’ve worked with in this area of overflights and training, working with the B-52s. Thanks.
Lt. Gen. Basham: Robin, I’m very confident of our readiness level and it continues to improve every single day.
As we continue to work through our ability to command and control forces, and that’s from a NATO standpoint, across the theater I’m absolutely appreciative, and I’ll echo from my boss, General Harrigian, the Commander of United States Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, the number of nations and their air chiefs that are absolutely willing to lean forward in working with our weapons systems, our aircraft, our bombers, our fighters when they come into theater. I’m reminded of we just had F-35s in theater not too long ago, working integrated air and missile defense. We appreciate the great work we were able to do in Italy with their F-35s, the Italian F-35s, our F-35s. Certainly, we were working closely with Slovenia and Croatia during that exercise. We continue to work with many of the Baltic nations; on a close working relationship certainly with Poland right now. I can tell you that what you’re seeing right now is just an increased level of enthusiasm toward not only helping to integrate and make the forces more interoperable, but we know that the only way to improve readiness is by actually utilizing the force. We’re doing that in a rotational basis right now. We certainly appreciate the opportunity that many nations are affording us to come into theater.
So I would offer I think we’re headed in a great direction for readiness. And it proves one more time that not only are we working closely together to assure each other that we’re fully committed to deterrence. But that should deterrence fail, and we hope it does not, but should deterrence fail, that we are ready and willing to defend and win as needed.
Moderator: General, thank you very much for taking the time. Do you have any closing remarks? If you do, please go ahead. Otherwise when you’re finished here, your team can disengage and I’ll ask the journalists to stay on the line for instructions on how to get a recording of this from the AT&T operator.
Lt. Gen. Basham: Okay, Justin. My only closing comment is one more time, thanks for your assistance in putting this together. Thanks to my team for helping out with it.
And one more time to the journalists, thank you for taking the time. I know these can be challenging sometimes, but the only way that we can actually communicate to so many different audiences is through you, so thank you as well.