In an apparent bid to reassure Asian allies and deter potential adversaries, the three types of U.S. Air Force strategic bombers — B-1, B-2 and B-52 — will fly simultaneously in the Pacific for the first time.
The B-1s, which arrived at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam on Aug. 6, will replace the B-52s in support of the U.S. Pacific Command’s so-called continuous bomber presence mission. The swap is expected to wrap up at the end of this month as the B-1s return to Guam for the first time since April 2006.
In addition, three B-2 stealth bombers also arrived in Guam for “a bomber assurance and deterrence deployment,” Pacific Command said in a statement on its website. It said both the B-1 and B-2 deployments “are part of a long-standing history of maintaining a consistent bomber presence in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region in order to maintain stability and provide assurance to U.S. allies and partners in the region.”
“For the first time ever a B-52, B-1 & B-2 are simultaneously in the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility conducting integrating operational missions,” U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James wrote on Twitter last week.
“This unique situation provides a valuable opportunity for our bomber crews to integrate and train together, as well as with our allies and partners through the region in a variety of missions,” Lee said in a separate statement posted to her official Facebook account.
The announcement comes amid rising tensions with China and North Korea, which lobbed what was believed to be a medium-range Rodong missile into Japan’s exclusive economic zone 250 km west of the Oga Peninsula in Akita Prefecture on Aug. 3. With an estimated range of up to 1,300 km, the Rodong is capable of hitting most of Japan.
It also comes just ahead of annual U.S.-South Korean war games slated for Aug. 22. Last year’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises involved 30,000 U.S. and 50,000 South Korean troops.
North Korea blasted the aircraft deployment Wednesday, claiming the move was in preparation for a “preemptive nuclear attack” on the country.
“What should not be overlooked is that the massive forward-deployment of nuclear war hardware is underway with the approach of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian, a joint nuclear war exercise to be staged by the U.S. imperialists and the puppet forces,” the Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday.
“They are now mulling creating an opportunity of surprise nuclear attack in the course of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian,” it said.
The move may also be aimed at China, which last month sent one of its own H-6K strategic bombers to fly over the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea around the same time a U.N.-backed tribunal invalidated much of Beijing’s “historic claims” to the waters.
Washington and Beijing are at odds over the strategic waters, where China has built man-made islands. The U.S. contends that China is militarizing its outposts, a claim that Beijing has rejected, instead casting blame on Washington for its so-called freedom of navigation operations near the reclaimed islands.
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