US rehearses dropping nuclear bombs in Europe

On Monday, the NATO military alliance will hold a training exercise known as Steadfast Noon, during which US B-52 bombers and F-16 fighters will simulate dropping nuclear bombs over Europe amid a deepening nuclear standoff with Russia.

The training exercise comes just 10 days after US President Joe Biden warned of a nuclear “apocalypse” and said the risk of nuclear war was the greatest since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

“This is the exercise that will train NATO’s nuclear strike mission with dual-capable aircraft and the B61 tactical nuclear bombs that the US is stationing in Europe,” wrote Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.

The plane will rehearse dropping “tactical” B61 thermonuclear bombs, each up to 20 times more powerful than the weapon that destroyed Hiroshima in World War II and killed up to 126,000 civilians.

A B-52 bomber drops a bomb during a training mission.

While nuclear training exercises are usually portrayed as routine, non-threatening and not targeting any specific country, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made it clear this year that the exercise is intended to pose a threat to Russia.

In a speech in which Russia was mentioned five times, Stoltenberg announced: “Next week NATO will hold its long-planned Steadfast Noon deterrent exercise.” He added: “Russia knows that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought .”

As of 2019, the United States had deployed 150 “tactical” nuclear warheads as part of NATO’s nuclear arsenal across Europe, including in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.

On Sunday, a day before the planned nuclear exercise, China urged its citizens living in Ukraine to leave the country, citing the “serious security situation”.

In June, the NATO alliance released a document pledging to provide “the full spectrum of forces” needed “for high-intensity, multi-domain warfare against nuclear-armed peer competitors.”

Announcing the Steadfast Noon exercise, NATO said the training flights will include “14 countries and up to 60 aircraft of various types, including fourth- and fifth-generation fighter jets, as well as surveillance and refueling aircraft.” It added that “US B-52 long-range bombers” will “fly out of Minot Air Base in North Dakota” to take part in the exercise.

The flights will take place “over Belgium, which is hosting the exercise, as well as over the North Sea and the United Kingdom”.

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