US B-1B Lancer bomber makes historic debut at Aero India 2021

The US Air Force deployed a B-1B Lancer bomber and more than 40 aviators to the Aero India tradeshow held at the Indian Air Force Yelahanka Air Force Base from February 3-5, 2021.

The bi-annual tradeshow for India’s defence and security sector was organised by India’s Ministry of Defence and featured foreign delegates and representatives from more than 60 countries and 500 defence industry companies.

The American B-1B Lancer bomber and airmen deployed from the US Air Force’s Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, and showcased the long-range strike platform’s capabilities during a live aerial demonstration at the Indian event.

The B-1B Lancer can carry the largest conventional payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the US Air Force inventory.

Aero India 2021 featured a hybrid exhibition of in-person aerial demonstrations as well as virtual options for viewing due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

While the hybrid approach was a first for the trade show, it was also the first time an American bomber touched down in India in the history of the Republic of India.

The last time a US bomber was on Indian soil was more than 75 years ago – October 1945 – when India was under British rule.

“Bomber participation demonstrates the strength of our partnership and our shared commitment to global security and a rules-based international order,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Weatherington, Eighth Air Force and Joint-Global Strike Operations Center commander, who was among the US military delegates in attendance at the tradeshow.

“Our presence and engagement today is one of great historical significance that we hope to build on in the years ahead,” he added.

Bilateral ties

While the B-1 flyover at the tradeshow provided a visual demonstration to the United States’ commitment to stability within the Indo-Pacific region, it also gave way for another opportunity: the B-1 was not flying alone, but alongside an Indian Air Force Tejas fighter jet.

US Bomber Task Forces, like the one deployed to Aero India 2021, allow for allied and partner nations to conduct operations focused on interoperability in a joint or coalition environment with the US.

“Our bomber forces integrated and operated with the Indian Air Force for the very first time,” said Lt. Col. Michael Fessler, 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron commander and lead Aero India demonstration pilot.

“Today marks a very significant moment in our two countries’ partnership,” he added.