U.S. bombers deploy to Kallax as NATO prepares for Swedish flag raising ceremony

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - February 23, 2024
One of the two B-1B bombers parking at Luleå-Kallax Air Base, Sweden, Feb. 23, 2024. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jake Jacobsen, 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

The parliament in Hungary will vote on ratification of Swedish NATO membership on Monday. Formal flag raising for the North Atlantic Alliance’s 32nd member will take place outside the Headquarters in Brussels within a week or two.

The two supersonic strategic B-1B Lancers from the U.S. Air Force landed at the Kallax airport in Luleå early Friday morning after a non-stop flight from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

It is not said how long the bombers will stay in northern Sweden. A short note from the U.S. Air Force in Europe, however, states that the planes are followed by “support personnel” and “will integrate with the Swedish Armed Forces.” This means the aircraft will not leave soon.

The U.S. bombers will likely stay in the north for the Steadfast Defender exercises, including the soon-to-start Nordic Response.

The U.S. Air Force says the bomber crews will work with international partners to synchronize capabilities.

The bomber deployment to Sweden comes as Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Friday is in Budapest paving the last way for Hungarian approval of Swedish NATO membership. The two countries signed an agreement that includes support and logistics for Hungary’s fighter jet fleet. Hungary buys four more Swedish-made JAS Gripen planes.


The U.S. Air Force strategic B-1-B bomber landed at Kallax outside Luleå early Friday morning. Photo: Staff Sgt. Jake Jacobsen 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs


This is the second time U.S. Air Force strategic bombers have landed at Kallax Air Base. The first time, in June last year, it was two planes at forward deployment to the United Kingdom that made a short visit to northern Sweden.

In early March, the Norwegian-led exercise Nordic Response kicks off with about 20,000 soldiers from 14 countries.

If all ratifications go as planned in Budapest and then in Sweden’s parliament, the Nordic Response will be the first where Sweden participates as a NATO member, not as a partner nation.


Within a week or two, the Swedish flag will stand together with the 31 other NATO members, like here at the JFC Norfolk. Photo: Thomas Nilsen


A core element of Nordic Response is to train cross-border defense and movement of military hardware between the northernmost parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Nordic Response will be the largest NATO exercise inside the Arctic Circle since the Cold War. Air forces will be active with about 100 aircraft. Outside the coast of northern Norway, over 50  submarines, frigates, corvettes, aircraft carriers, and various amphibious vessels will be active, the Norwegian Armed Forces informs.

Ahead of Nordic Response will the Finnish Air Force conduct exercise Hanki 24 from Finland’s two air bases at Tikkakoski in Jyväskylä and Rovaniemi in Lapland. Other NATO aircraft will not participate, but the Finnish Air Force says its fighter jets will also operate from Kallax in northern Sweden.

Located in Kirkenes, Norway, just a few kilometres from the borders to Russia and Finland, the Barents Observer is dedicated to cross-border journalism in Scandinavia, Russia and the wider Arctic.

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