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US B-52 bomber duo on Middle East mission in wake of Iran ballistic missile drill

A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing departs after receiving fuel from a KC-10 Extender assigned to the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron during a Bomber Task Force (BTF) mission over the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, Jan. 17, 2021. Photo: US Air Force

A pair of US Air Force B-52 strategic bombers took off from Minot Air Force Base on Saturday for a Middle East mission in wake of Iran’s The Great Prophet-15 ballistic missile drill.

The bombers flew over the Persian Gulf in the afternoon hours of January 17 and are currently en route back to the US, according to flight tracker data.

The 36-hour round trip flight was the fifth deterrence mission carried out by the Stratofortresses since last November. The presence patrol in the Middle East also marked the second such mission of 2021.

While the US Air Force described the mission as a “training opportunity,” it is believed the flight is in response to Iran’s missile launches into the Indian Ocean on January 15. According to reports, some of the missiles launched by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps landed close to a commercial ship, while the USS Nimitz and its carrier strike group were a bit further away.

The Great Prophet-15 exercise saw the IRGC launch multiple classes of missiles, including the Zulfaghar, Zelzal, Dezful, and Sejil-classes. Exercise scenarios also involved several types of unmanned aerial vehicles. Analysts have already pointed out that footage showed suicide drones that appeared similar to those used in a 2019 attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.

The exercise also proved as an opportunity for the Iranian Navy to test two of its newest vessels, a type of missile boat named Zereh, and logistics vessel Makran, which is fitted with a multiple-spot helicopter pad and believed to be largest vessel in the country’s navy.

Just a day prior to the drills, Iran released video footage filmed by an Iranian Sea King helicopter, showing a submarine sailing close to the surface in the vicinity of the Strait of Hormuz. The submarine in question is very likely the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia (SSGN 729) which has been operating in the Persian Gulf since late December.