Testing the B-52 readiness – exercise Prairie Vigilance

Between 15th and 23rd September 2022, Boeing B-52 Stratofortress long-range bombers of the USAF 5th Bomb Wing participated in Prairie Vigilance exercise. The training was focused on evaluating the Wing capability to conduct strategic readiness operations.

The B-52 nuclear-capable bombers are one of the elements of the so-called ´nuclear triad´ of the United States. It includes ground-launched nuclear missiles, submarines armed with nuclear missiles and, last but not least, long-range strategic bombers able to carry nuclear bombs and missiles.

The Prairie Vigilance exercise was executed at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, the home of the 5th Bomb Wing. The base is also hosting another leg of the US nuclear strategic force – the 91st Missile Wing that operates intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Among the main goals of the training, there was testing the USAF capabilities to perform quick response missions against strategic attacks on the territory of the United States and other NATO countries, ability to execute Air Force Global Strike airpower, as well as to stand alert and project lethal force anywhere in the world.

Airman 1st Class Mathew Nolan, 5th Security Forces Squadron defender, stands guard at a B-52H Stratofortress during exercise Prairie Vigilance at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, Sept. 21, 2022. (USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Nottingham)

´In this exercise the 5th Operations Group role is to provide trained and ready aircrew [that is] always ready to respond to our aircraft at a moment’s notice´, said Capt. John Cavassa, a 69th Bomb Squadron pilot.

It must be emphasized here that, as opposed to submarines and ballistic missiles, the strategic bombers are often used as a visible statement of nuclear power. Neither potential opponents nor the allied countries are able to see the capability of nuclear submarines or ballistic missiles, even if they are placed on alert. The air force has the unique ability to take-off and fly over any region in the world, just showing its readiness to action, without a need to employ weapons.

This year´s drill was already the fifth edition of the Prairie Vigilance exercise. The training held at Minot AFB is also considered as lead-up to Global Thunder – an annual US nuclear strategic command and control exercise.

A group of B-52H Stratofortress’ are parked on the Main Parking Area during exercise Prairie Vigilance at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, Sept. 21, 2022.  (USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Nottingham)

Cover photo: A B-52H Stratofortress take-off from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, during exercise Prairie Vigilance Sept. 22, 2022. (USAF photo by Sr. Airman China Shock). All photos and quotations © U.S. Department of Defence (DoD). DoD information materials were used, in compliance with Public Domain licence. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.