The U.S. Air Force has sent three B-2 nuclear-capable stealth bombers to Andersen Air Force Base on the island territory of Guam amid cooling tensions with North Korea.
Around 200 airmen from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri were recently deployed to Andersen in support of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Bomber Assurance and Deterrence mission.
“During this short-term deployment, the B-2s will conduct local and regional training sorties and will integrate capabilities with key regional partners, ensuring bomber crews maintain a high state of readiness and crew proficiency,” the U.S. Pacific Air Forces said on its website.
The U.S. Strategic Command regularly rotates bombers through the Indo-Pacific region to conduct Pacific Command-led air operations, “providing leaders with deterrent options to maintain regional stability,” the Pacific Air Forces said.
It was unclear how long the powerful stealth bombers would be deployed to Guam, a strategically important base amid Pyongyang’s tests of increasingly powerful missiles and nuclear bombs.
North Korea has ramped up its threats to the U.S. and its allies in both words and deeds, including successful tests of what the country claimed was a powerful hydrogen bomb and the separate test of an intercontinental ballistic missile believed capable of striking the American mainland.
Tensions on the peninsula have cooled somewhat after the first intra-Korean talks in over two years were held Tuesday. North Korea said at those talks that it would attend the Winter Olympics in the South, while both sides agreed to work to resolve problems between them via dialogue and to revive a military hotline and consultations to prevent accidental conflict.
For his part, U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to play down the possibility of conflict, reportedly telling South Korean President Moon Jae-in that there would be no military action of any kind while the two Koreas continue to hold dialogue.
Still, Trump has repeatedly said that “all options remain on the table” — including military action — to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear drive.
Andersen Air Force Base, from which heavy bombers would be dispatched and logistics support could be centered, would play a key role in the event of conflict erupting on the Korean Peninsula.
In late October, the U.S. military sent a B-2 from Whiteman on a long-range mission to the Pacific area of operations after Pentagon chief Jim Mattis highlighted rival North Korea’s “accelerating” atomic weapons program during a visit to South Korea.
The last time one of the stealth bombers flew near the Koreas was during a rare show of force over the peninsula in 2013. Military experts say that any U.S. strike on North Korea would almost certainly involve the powerful bombers.