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In a rare deployment, B-52 bombers head to Europe for training exercises

A B-52H Stratofortress takes off in 2015 after being taken out of long-term storage. (Master Sgt. Greg Steele/U.S. Air Force)
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Three B-52 Stratofortress bombers deployed to Europe last week to participate in a series of training exercises in Norway, a move that the top U.S. commander for the region called “not normal.”

Since Russia’s incursion into Ukraine in 2014, the United States has steadily increased the use of heavy bombers in joint exercises across the region. In 2015, a number of B-52s and B-2 bombers participated in a series of NATO-led training missions across Europe.

What happens when Marines go to Norway? ‘The Fast and the Furious’ on ice. In tanks.

Russian aircraft have increasingly skirted, and sometimes entered, European airspace, causing countries to scramble fighters to intercept their Russian visitors. Last month, two British jets had to escort a Russian Tu-160 heavy bomber after it approached England from the northeast.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove said Tuesday that while the B-52’s deployment was abnormal, the aircraft’s presence was scheduled and not in reaction to any particular move by Russia or any other country.

It is uncommon for the large bombers to deploy to mainland Europe, since they usually take off from the United States, refuel, and carry out their assigned duties before returning to their home stations. In previous bomber deployments to the region, the aircraft have often been temporarily stationed out of the Royal Air Force Base in Fairford, England.

The three B-52s, from the 2nd Bomb Wing, took off from Barksdale Air Force base on Friday, and will be temporarily stationed at Moron Airbase in Spain, along with 200 support personnel. The bombers will be accompanied by various other aircraft participating in the exercise.

The B-52, alongside the B-1B Lancer, is the aging workhorse of the U.S. bomber fleet. First fielded in 1950s, the bomber has been steadily upgraded over the years and is capable of carrying a nuclear payload as well as launching cruise missiles from its bomb bay.

“Strategic bomber deployments enhance the readiness and training vital to rapidly projecting global power and responding to any potential crisis or challenge,” said Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. strategic command, in a statement regarding the bomber’s deployment.

Haney added that the B-52s will bolster the United State’s European-based forces, including providing an extra nuclear deterrent in tandem with U.S. ballistic missile subs operating in the region.

[The Pentagon is adding to its arsenal of weapons in Norway’s caves]

The primary role of the bombers, however, is to participate in a joint U.S.-Norwegian training exercise called “Cold Response.” Cold Response kicked off in February and is a longstanding joint exercise for the region. This year, it features 16,000 troops from 13 countries.

The Pentagon’s upcoming budget has quadrupled the amount of funds allocated for U.S. forces in Europe, known as the European Reassurance Initiative. Much of the cash is meant to bolster training exercises in the region and the positioning of U.S. military equipment throughout the region.