The US Air Force has made history by flying all three operational bombers, the B-52, the B-1, and the B-2 over Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, before conducting drills in the South China Sea and Northeast Asia.
The opportunity to fly these three long range bombers together in the sensitive region, which is of key strategic importance to Australia, came when the advanced B-1s and B-2s arrived in the theatre to relieve the B-52s that were stationed there as part of operation Continuous Bomber Presence.
The air wing commander for the operation said it was a demonstration that the US military was capable of “providing the president of the United States sovereign options to decisively employ airpower across the entire spectrum of engagement”.
Essentially, it is the goal of US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) to constantly station nuclear-capable bombers in the Pacific in a visible effort to deter aggression in the region.
But lately, the US has stepped up the presence, pulling out all three big bombers, while China has been acting increasingly aggressively towards its neighbours in the South China Sea.
China, for its part, has attempted to establish a “no sail zone,” intruded into Japan’s territorial waters, and flew bomber patrols of their own over the disputed islands and shoals since the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague ruled against their claims to the South China Sea.
Now it would seem the US is answering.
Australia has also been drawn into the diplomatic tensions, with senior US military officials saying it would be helpful for the Royal Australian Navy to conduct so-called “freedom of navigation” exercises in the region, which would involve sending Australian vessels to the area where China is clearly engaged in a significant military build-up.
A major Chinese state newspaper recently called for the sinking of any Australian ships that entered the waters. The barbs from China towards Australia have been noted in the diplomatic community, with warnings that Australia could become a “lightning rod” for Chinese aggression towards the west.
“This mission demonstrated the US commitment to supporting global security and our ability to launch a credible strategic defence force,” Brig. Gen. Douglas Cox, the 36th Wing commander said of the exercises in an Air Force statement.
“By doing this, we showed the world we can expertly integrate three different platforms with unique capabilities, meeting (Andersen AFB’s) mission by providing the president of the United States sovereign options to decisively employ airpower across the entire spectrum of engagement, thus achieving our wing’s motto, we are ‘prepared to prevail,’” Cox said.
Flying all three bombers and training with allies provides the US and partners with the realistic training they need to provide credible deterrence.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Capt. Kaitlin Tardieu and 1st Lt. Ruben Labrador. “We’ve (been able) to use equipment we wouldn’t usually use and integrate with our allies.”
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