BALTOPS / Saber Strike 2016

RAF Fairford, UK

Thursday 2nd June marked the beginning of a now annual deployment from the United States Air Force Global Strike Command, which for the third consecutive year was hosted at RAF Fairford. Touching down mid-afternoon were a pair of B-52H Stratofortress’s from the 5th Bomb Wing based at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota; positioning ready for their activities during the coming weeks. On Friday 3rd June, the third and final B-52 arrived from Minot completing the contingent of 23rd Bomb Squadron aircraft expected for the deployment. Aviation in Action was invited along to the Media Day on the 11th June to find out more regarding their presence in Gloucestershire:

After processing through security at the main gate, AIA was welcomed to RAF Fairford by Colonel Kieran Denahan, Commander of the 5th Expeditionary Operations Group (5 EOG), who went on to introduce himself and his colleagues by explaining the purpose of their deployment.

’’So, the reason we are here? We are here to support two primary exercises; the first one is Baltops and the second one is Saber Strike. Baltops is primarily a maritime exercise taking place around the Baltic Sea with 17 NATO and NATO partner countries. Saber Strike which runs almost concurrently, is primarily a land exercise. Because the B-52 has so many different roles, it can support both exercises; so counter sea, maritime interdiction, mining exercises, working with foreign JTAC’s, doing drops and working with Army Forces. So that’s the big picture of why we are here’’.

The aircraft in attendance were operating under the guise of the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (23 EBS) attached to 5 EOG as highlighted by Col. Kieran Denehan.  The Expeditionary title is added to a Unit/Squadron when deployed away from their home base, which in days gone by would have been recognised as a Rapid Response Force. In this case three B-52’s, 250 Airmen and a host of support equipment form the basis of the 5th Expeditionary Operations Group, all of which are split across a number of  Expeditionary Units working together to achieve the goals of the deployment.



Baltops as Col. Denehan previously highlighted is primarily a maritime focussed exercise. This year it consists of approximately 6,100 Air, Ground and Sea based troops working together in situations that practise naval warfare. Exercises such as maritime interdiction, anti-submarine, anti-surface, amphibious and air defence operations are undertaken in a shared environment to ensure regional security. Taking place from June 3rd to June 19th, Baltops also presents NATO and its partners the opportunity to collectively evaluate and improve combat readiness, develop their capabilities and bring together forces from multiple nations to train together as one military.

Participating nations for 2016 include Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States.

Subsequently, the result of this exercise demonstrates the resolve of allied and partner forces to defend and maintain a stable Baltic Sea region.


Saber Strike 2016

Saber Strike is a long-standing training exercise led by U.S. Army Europe designed to improve joint interoperability through a range of missions. The aim of the exercise, due to take place from May 27th to June 22nd, is to prepare the 13 participating nations to support multinational contingency operations. The exercise will be hosted in multiple locations throughout Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania serving as an effective proving ground for units to validate their ability to assemble rapid-reaction forces and deploy them on short notice where needed.

The 2016 edition of Saber Strike features a 10,000 strong allied and partner nation ground force conducting live-fire, command post, and cyber/electronic warfare training. In addition to this is where the B-52 involvement comes into effect where U.S. led close-air support aids multinational ground forces.

Participating this year include host nations Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and the United States.


In the spotlight

Maj. Fredo Devita, 5th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron Commander/Head Planner of the deployment, Lt. Col. Mike Maginness, Squadron Commander of the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (Bomber Barons) and Chief Turner, 5th Expeditionary Operations Group Maintenance Superintendent were on hand to answer our questions surrounding both exercises, the B-52 involvement and any other queries:


Who are you working with specifically on this exercise (BALTOPS)?

''Almost every NATO country is participating in one form or another. Just today for example, we will be flying with German Eurofighters, Swedish non-NATO partner JAS-39 Gripen aircraft, as well as Polish F-16’s and US F-16’s supported by a US KC-135 tanker. Those are primarily the air players that we are working with while we are out there, but other countries also have air players that we don’t specifically work with in our role. In addition, there are a host of NATO ships that are out there from pretty much every NATO country that has a ship, will be participating''. – Maj. Fredo Devita


Are you undertaking swing role missions, such as combining Baltops and Saber Strike in a single sortie?

''Every mission we do is swing-role giving us a tremendous capability across the entire spectrum. So yes, everything we do out here, everything we do back home and everything we train for, is a multi-role mission. What I mean by that is it’s not in a fighter sense where they will swap from an air-to-air to an air-to-ground employment, what I’m talking about is we may be practising bomb dropping and then be able to switch to Non-Traditional Search and Reconnaissance (NTISR) type missions using our targeting pods to pick up imagery on the ground, evaluating that imagery and potentially converting that into targetable co-ordinates and passing that information onto other platforms or other players. In terms of combining both exercises, for the most part we try to operate separately as the planning is intense for both missions, but there are a couple of instances this week where we will be flying the same jet in both Baltops and Saber Strike in the same sortie mission''. – Lt. Col. Mike Maginness


How long will a typical sortie duration last whilst on these exercises?

''The B-52 is an amazing capability and a lot of it is because of its long range, so 6/7/8-10 hours, those are not necessarily long sorties to us. The sorties out here, we are upwards of 10 hours and that’s not really even long for us, we have sortie durations upwards of 24/30/35 hours back home that we will train to on a fairly regular basis. All of the training we are doing out here is not air-to-air refuelled, so every one of these sorties we are just using the gas that we took off with''. – Lt. Col. Mike Maginness


How many hours do you spend prepping the aircraft for each mission?

''It could be anything up to 24 hours, it just all depends on what we need to do to get that aircraft to at least Partially Mission Capable (PMC) and so it depends on how it flies the previous day. What we like to hear is Alpha 1, which basically means they don’t have any write ups (maintenance issues), so that basically means for us is all we need to do is do an inspection, put gas on it and check oil and we’re ready for the next day – those are the quick turn arounds''. – Chief Turner


In terms of your ground support and equipment, how much of that do you bring yourselves and how much is provided by United States Air Force Europe?

''So basically what happens is, when we get tasked to come here we have our mobility section, and what they do is they go to Global Strike which is our major command, from that point what they do is they get a hold of the folks here any they say okay, these are our requirements and we need 2 of this, 2 of these, 5 of that so they build a list based on the number of aircraft. What they do is they take that initial list and see what they have here in War Reserve (WRM) at RAF Fairford, and from that point they will look to source what they don’t have from other bases is Europe. If those other bases don’t have those items to spare, we will provide and supply that equipment from our home base. Normally we bring our supplies with us, like for this trip I think we had two cargo planes arrive with different support equipment''. – Chief Turner


How much notice did you get back at Minot to say you were deploying over here for these exercises?

''Col. Denehan was explaining this yesterday so I’m going to steal from him his explanation, so basically it’s pretty similar to throwing a party.  You know, about three months out you’re going to kind of know who’s on your guest list, you’re going to know what facility you’re going to use for it and you’re going to start making calls to the caterers. It’s similar for us, so about 3-4 months ago, we knew we were coming here and a list of other assets we were going to be working with started to solidify. So as we got closer to the exercise Chief Turner and his maintenance professionals started making plans for how many jets we would be taking, what sort of maintenance footprint needed to come, they started working with the people on the ground out here at Fairford finding out what equipment they had and what we would need to bring, So as we got even closer, we start narrowing down to times that we would be flying within particular airspace, but the final planning occurs about 24 hours before launch. We have what we call a mission planning cell, which is a crew working under Maj. Devita, and they are the ones who are doing the actual nuts and bolts planning of the exercise''.   Lt. Col. Mike Maginness



It was clear from our time with the Engineers, Airmen and Senior Figures that a lot of pride, respect and professionalism is shown towards their fellow companions and the job alike. Leading from the top, Col. Denehan was eager to show his appreciation for being here at RAF Fairford, being highly decorated and having visited on many occasion in the past. He later went on to reveal that the flight back to Minot from RAF Fairford would actually be his last on board the mighty B-52. Upon returning Stateside, Col. Denehan will move on to a post within the United States Air Force Global Strike Command Headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base. We would like to wish him all the best in his future and hope that his final deployment at RAF Fairford was one to remember.


Aviation in Action would like to extend our thanks to the following for their assistance in making this article possible:

  • Capt. Alexis McGee (501st Combat Support Wing Public Relations)
  • Snr. Airman Sahara Fales (5th Expeditionary Operations Group Public Affairs)
  • Col. Kieran Denehan (5th Expeditionary Operations Group Commander)
  • Maj. Fredo Devita (5th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron Commander)
  • Lt. Col. Mike Maginness (23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron Commander)
  • Chief Turner (5th Expeditionary Operations Group Maintenance Superintendent)
  • The crew and personnel of the 5th Expeditionary Operations Group
  • The crew and personnel of the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron



Credits: Article and photography by Aaron Paxton