The United States Air Force (USAF) has deployed an undisclosed number of supersonic B-1B Lancer heavy strategic bombers to Andersen Air Force Base on Guam in the western Pacific to replace the base’s fleet of B-52H long-range heavy bombers, U.S. Pacific Command announced on August 8.
It is the first time in over a decade that the United States has dispatched its heaviest supersonic strategic bomber to the Asia-Pacific region. The move comes after the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has increased its operational tempo in the South China Sea, with a long-range bomber conducting patrols over disputed features (See: “China Flies Bomber Over Disputed Feature in South China Sea”).
According to the USAF, the B-1B Lancers and over 300 Airmen with the 28th Bomb Wing from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota will conduct routine, strategic deterrence patrols and regional training missions with allies and partner nations. The USAF has been stationing B-1, B-52H, and B-2 Spirit bombers in Guam since 2004.
“Air Force Global Strike Command continues to routinely deploy bombers to Guam, which provides opportunities to strengthen regional alliances and long-standing military-to-military partnerships throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” according to a U.S. Pacific Command press release.
The USAF’s 62 B-1B Lancers are capable of carrying up to 75,000 pounds (34,000 kilograms) of weapons—the largest payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the USAF’s inventory. Though heavily armed, the bomber can reach a top speed of Mach 1.2 and can operate at altitudes above 30,000 feet (9,100 meters). The B-1B bombers will be permanently stationed on Guam as part of U.S. Pacific Command’s so-called Continuous Bomber Presence.
In March, the U.S. government also announced its intention to regularly rotate B-1B Lancer long-range heavy bombers and aerial tankers through Australia in order to strengthen the defense ties between the two countries (See: “Will the US Station Long-Range Heavy Bombers in Australia?”). However, until now, no B-1-Bs have been deployed down under.
On August 9, the USAF has also dispatched three B-2 Spirits nuclear-capable stealth bombers to Guam as part of a routine rotation of aircraft, U.S. Pacific Command revealed this week. The bombers and their crews will participate in a number of regional training exercises during their short-term deployment.
The last time the USAF deployed B-2s to Guam was in March 2016, amidst tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The United States also dispatched B-2s to the Asia-Pacific region in 2015 and 2013 in a show of force to deter North Korean aggression. B-2s also entered North Korean airspace in 2013.