On Tuesday, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) began deploying six B-52H Stratofortress bombers and approximately 300 military personnel from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, to Andersen Air Force Base on Guam in the Western Pacific in support of United States Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) continuous bomber presence mission in the Asia-Pacific region.
The B-52Hs, which last deployed to Guam in July 2016, are slated to take over responsibility from the B-1B Lancer heavy strategic bombers of the USAF’s 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (EBS) of the 7th Bomb Wing, which deployed to the region in February 2017. Last week, USAF also dispatched three B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to the Pacific island.
While the USAF has routinely been stationing B-1B, B-52H, and B-2 Spirit bombers in Guam since 2004, the presence of three different bomber types, two of which (the B-52H and B-2 Spirit) are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, is intended to underline the United States’ defense commitment to its regional allies in the face of North Korean nuclear provocations.
“The B-52H’s return to the Pacific will provide USPACOM and its regional allies and partners with a credible, strategic power projection platform, while bringing years of repeated operational experience,” a USAF statement reads. “This forward-deployed presence demonstrates the continued commitment of the U.S. to allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The USAF’s fleet of 58 B-52-H long-range, heavy strategic bombers are capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes up to 50,000 feet (15,166.6 meters) and can carry nuclear cruise missiles and a conventional payload of up to 70,000 pounds (31,500 kilograms) “with worldwide precision navigation capability,” according to a statement by the service.
The B-1B Lancer remains the USAFs most powerful bomber. The aircraft has repeatedly been dispatched to the Korean Peninsula over the last few months as tensions with North Korea have been increasing to deter North Korean aggression. North Korea in the past threatened to shoot down B-1B bombers “even when they’re not yet inside the airspace border of our country,” as North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho stated in September 2017.
“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),” I explained elsewhere.
The subsonic B-2 Spirit stealth bomber (20 of which are currently in service with the USAF) also is nuclear-capable and can carry B61 thermonuclear gravity bombs, next to a conventional payload. In 2013, B-2 Spirit bombers entered North Korean airspace in a show of force to deter the communist regime.