NATO Troops Are Thin On The Ground Near Russia. They Need American Bombers. – Forbes

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Icon 10월 18, 2021

B-1s arrive at RAF Fairford on Oct. 6, 2021.
A pair of U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers deployed from Texas to the United Kingdom for one of the USAF’s frequent Bomber Task Force rotations.
The four-engine, swing-wing warplanes wasted no time flying across the length of Europe to train with the NATO troops who arguably would need their help the most during wartime—the alliance’s lightly-armed Baltic battlegroups.
The B-1s with the serial numbers 86-0110 and 86-0140 belong to the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base. They arrived at Royal Air Force Fairford on Oct. 6 for a weeks-long rotation meant to “demonstrate the U.S. Air Force’s unique capability to rapidly deploy and integrate with NATO allies and coalition partners,” according to the flying branch.
It’s telling what the B-1s and their four-person crews did a few days after settling in at Faiford. They took off on the morning of Oct. 11, flew east across the North Sea, bisected Denmark then streaked across the Baltic Sea north of Russia’s fortress exclave Kaliningrad before going “feet dry” over Lithuania.
A gaggle of NATO joint tactical air controllers was waiting for them. They included Lithuanian Special Forces JTACs as well as USAF and U.S. Navy controllers working for U.S. Special Operations Command Europe.
The controllers, posted up at a Lithuanian live-fire range, “coordinated with the bomber aircrews and identified simulated ground targets,” according to the U.S. Defense Department. “The mission focused on enhancing readiness and interoperability for the controllers responsible for coordinating air strikes to support ground forces.”
These eastern JTAC exercises are a favorite activity of the USAF’s bomber rotations in Europe. Visiting B-52s trained with Latvian JTACs two years ago. And it’s not just bombers getting in on the action. Fighters from across NATO also frequently visits the eastern bombing ranges for JTAC training.
It’s not hard to see why. NATO’s Baltic members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are the most vulnerable to Russian attack and also the least-prepared to defend themselves. All three possess tiny militaries that lack heavy weaponry. No fighters. No tanks.
In the event of war with Russia, the Baltic states would need reinforcing—and fast. To buy time for airborne and tank brigades to wind their way east, the alliance keeps a battalion-size battlegroup in each of the three countries, as well as one in Poland. Each battlegroup has around a thousand troops plus tanks and other armored vehicles.
The British Army leads the Estonian battlegroup. The Canadian army heads the Latvian group. The German army is in charge of the battlegroup in Lithuania and the U.S. Army leads the one in Poland. “They demonstrate the strength of the transatlantic bond and make clear that an attack on one ally would be considered an attack on the whole alliance,” NATO stated.
But even these battlegroups lack the firepower they’d need significantly to slow a Russian tank army rolling west across the NATO-Russia frontier. Hence the importance NATO places on training the JTACs that coordinate air support for the eastern battlegroups.
“That’s what you’ve got to think about—large impact, highly lethal, very precise ability to take on enemy forces,” USAF Colonel Andrew Roberts, an A-10 pilot, said of the Latvian JTACs he trained with in 2018.
On its own, one of NATO’s Baltic battlegroups can throw a few 120-millimeter tank shells or fire some anti-tank missiles. American bombers dropping satellite-guided bombs give the battlegroup the firepower it would need to put a dent in a Russian assault force. “As a JTAC,” Roberts said, “your bullet weighs 500 pounds.”

I’m a journalist, author and filmmaker based in Columbia, South Carolina.

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