Pacific Air Forces said it is sending speedy and low-flying B-1B bombers to Guam for the first time in 10 years.
The move comes with China vowing to up its bomber and fighter flights in the contested South China Sea and the United States adding to its own aircraft firepower in the unstable region.
The B-1s, which have a low-radar cross section and can fly at more than 900 mph, “will provide a significant rapid global strike capability that enables our readiness and commitment to deterrence, offers assurance to our allies and strengthens regional security and stability,” the Hawaii-based command said.
The undisclosed number of B-1s will deploy to Andersen Air Force Base on Aug. 6 to replace B-52 bombers from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota that have been on Guam as part of U.S. Pacific Command’s continuous bomber presence mission.
The B-1 bombers will be accompanied by about 300 airmen from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. B-1 units bring “a unique perspective and years of repeated combat and operational experience” from the Middle East to the Pacific, the Air Force said.
While it’s not the first time the B-1 has been based in the Pacific, it’s been 10 years since the last rotation.
B-52 bombers out of Guam have played a key role maintaining flying rights in international airspace in a rebuke of China’s far-reaching sovereignty claims, which are challenged by some neighboring countries.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration recently rejected outright China’s territorial claims over much of the South China Sea in a case brought by the Philippines — a ruling China said it would ignore.
Two of the B-52 long-range bombers were sent into airspace over the East China Sea in late 2013 in defiance of China’s declaration of an “air defense identification zone” requiring other nations to get its approval to fly in what the United States considers international airspace. B-52s also have flown over the South China Sea.
Five A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog” tank-buster aircraft and four EA-18 Growler electronic attack aircraft were deployed to the Philippines in recent months, and the United States is in talks to base long-range bombers in Australia. [/restrict]