Flashpoints

US B-52H Bombers Train With Japan Air Self Defense Force Over East China Sea

The U.S. Air Force has been stepping up its bomber missions over Asian waters in recent months.

Franz-Stefan Gady
US B-52H Bombers Train With Japan Air Self Defense Force Over East China Sea
Credit: U.S. Air Force

Two U.S. Air Force (USAF) B-52H Stratofortress strategic bombers conducted a training mission with the U.S. Navy and Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) over the East China Sea on March 20, according to the U.S. military.

“Two B-52H Stratofortress bombers took off from Andersen Air Force Base [AFB], Guam, and conducted integration training with the U.S. Navy, Koku Jieitai [Japan Air Self-Defense Force] and F-15C Eagles assigned to the 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base, Japan, in the vicinity of the East China Sea,” the U.S. Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) said in a statement last week.

PACAF did not provide additional details.

The U.S. regularly conducts such exercises with allies in the Indo-Pacific region. This month, the USAF in particularly has stepped up its bomber presence over Asian waters. On March 13, two B-52Hs flew a patrol over the South China Sea “as part of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence operations.”

Two B-52H Stratofortress strategic bombers also conducted a patrol over the East and South China Seas on March 4. Notably, B-52Hs launched from Andersen AFB in Guam and a base in England conducted “simultaneous theater familiarization training in the Indo-Pacific and Europe” on March 18.

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“Bombers launched from Andersen AFB and flew north to an area east of the Kamchatka Peninsula before returning to base,” PACAF said in a statement. “Collectively, the flights from the Indo-Pacific and Europe demonstrated U.S. commitment to allies and partners through the global employment of military forces.”

B-52H bomber flights involving the East China and South China Seas are frequently denounced by China, which is in involved in territorial disputes in both waters.

USAF B-52H bomber units have been deploying to Guam on a rotational basis since January 2018 following a 17-month break. As I explained previously:

The service redeployed the B-52H to Guam as part of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s continuous bomber presence mission in the Asia-Pacific region in January. B-52Hs last deployed to Guam in July 2016. The B-52Hs took 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.

The USAF has routinely stationed B-1B, B-52H, and B-2 Spirit bombers at Anderson AFB since 2004. The service has 58 B-52Hs operationally deployed. The B-52H is nuclear-capable. Notably, under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), 41 B-52Hs were denuclearized.