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SEPTEMBER 2020

US Deploys B1-B Lancer Heavy Bombers To Saudi Arabia

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US Deploys B1-B Lancer Heavy Bombers To Saudi Arabia

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On October 25th, US B-1B Lancer non-nuclear bombers landed at the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.

U.S. Air Forces Central Command and Air Force Global Strike Command posted videos of the warplanes taking off from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, which is the home of the 28th Bomb Wing and the tweets also said that they had landed in the Kingdom.

 

There’s been no confirmation of how many B-1B Lancer bombers were sent to the Kingdom and how long they would remain there.

This is the first time ever the US Air Force deploys bombers to Saudi Arabia, but not the first time such warplanes were in the Middle East. From 2018 until March 2019 a separate contingent of B1s was deployed at Al Udeid Air Force Base in Qatar, the planes had some technical issues and were withdrawn.

In August 2019, then-head of U.S. Strategic Command Gen. John Hyten, revealed that just six of 62 B-1Bs were fully mission capable. The US had sent bombers back to Al Udeid in May 2019, but in the form of four B-52s to counter alleged threats from Iran.

The B-1Bs bombers represent a standing threat to Iran, or any other regional opponents, offering the ability to launch stand-off cruise missile strikes from multiple vectors.

From the Saudi Air base, these bombers could also conduct patrols in and around the Persian Gulf, including to observe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ maritime movements that allegedly present risks to American or other allied naval vessels or commercial shipping.

Naturally, these warplanes could’ve been deployed to Al Udeid, but the specific deployment to Saudi Arabia is more than likely a way to reinforce the commitment to the Kingdom’s defense, as the Patriot missile defense batteries failed to protect Aramco’s oil infrastructure on September 14th.

This deployment is also in line with an announcement by the US Department of Defense that a full Air Expeditionary Wing would be established in the Kingdom, earlier in October 2019. This announcement sets out a potential more robust and long-term presence in Saudi Arabia that would also oversee US units that could potentially be quickly deployed to the Middle East in case of a potential conflict.

This was part of a larger US military deployment that came in response to the above-mentioned attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, that both Riyadh and Washington blamed on Iran.

The most recent official announcement about American forces heading to the region on October 11th, 2019, did not mention bombers at all.

The official release from the Pentagon said that the following was being deployed to Saudi Arabia to bolster its defenses against alleged Iranian aggression.

“At the request of U.S. Central Command, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper authorized the deployment of additional U.S. forces and the following equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia:

  • Two Fighter Squadrons
  • One Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW)
  • Two Patriot Batteries
  • One Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD)

Secretary Esper informed Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Muhammad bin Salman this morning of the additional troop deployment to assure and enhance the defense of Saudi Arabia.

Taken together with other deployments this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorized within the last month.

Since May, the Department of Defense has increased the number of forces by approximately 14,000 to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility as an investment into regional security.

As we have stated, the United States does not seek conflict with the Iranian regime, but we will retain a robust military capability in the region that is ready to respond to any crisis and will defend U.S. forces and interest in the region.”

It is likely that the US was planning to boost its presence in Saudi Arabia, as it is its biggest customer and good customer service is, of course, important. The alleged “Iranian aggression” is an effective justification for any such undertakings.

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