Flashpoints | Security | South Asia

US Deploys 6 B-52 Stratofortress Bombers to Indian Ocean Island

The United States Air Force is sending B-52 bombers to Diego Garcia, which could be used for operations against Iran if ordered.

Franz-Stefan Gady
US Deploys 6 B-52 Stratofortress Bombers to Indian Ocean Island
Credit: USAF/Wikimedia Commons

The United States Air Force (USAF) is sending six B-52H Stratofortress strategic bombers to the island of Diego Garcia located in the central Indian Ocean, CNN reported on Monday.

Citing an unnamed U.S. official, CNN said that the six B-52s will be available for operations against Iran if ordered. Their deployment, however, does not signal that military operations have been ordered, CNN added on social media.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) did not officially confirm the dispatch of the bombers citing operational security concerns.

Diego Garcia is located more than 4,800 kilometers (3,000 miles) from the southern edge of Iran, which would put the U.S. airbase on the island out of range of medium-range ballistic missiles launched from Iran.

The USAF currently operates 58 B-52H long-range, heavy strategic bombers.  The B-52H is 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).

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Under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), 41 B-52Hs have been denuclearized.

“The denuclearized variant of the B-52H carries JASSM [AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile] and JASSM-ER [Extended-Range] long-range, radar-evading cruise missiles, whereas nuclear-capable bombers carry the nuclear-tipped AGM-86 air-launched cruise missile,” as I explained previously.

The USAF also operates B-52Hs out of Andersen Air Force Base on Guam in the Western Pacific. B-52Hs from Guam have conducted numerous patrols over the East and South China Seas in 2019.

B-52H bomber flights involving the East China and South China Seas are routinely critized by China, which claims territory 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 part of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence in the region.

The USAF has been routinely stationing B-1B, B-52H, and B-2 Spirit bombers at Anderson AFB since 2004.

Military and diplomatic tensions between the United States and Iran have been heating up in recent days.

Iran launched over a dozen ballistic missiles against two air bases hosting U.S. troops in Iraq overnight, declaring that the strikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.

“Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a message on social media last night. “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”

U.S. President Donald Trump is expect to address the American public on the ongoing Iran crisis later today.

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The United States and Iran – for all their rhetoric – do not want a full-scale military conflict.