The US brings out the big guns in the Pacific amid high tensions with China
As part of the Continuous Bomber Presence mission in the Pacific, the US has regularly kept bombers stationed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, but in the last few days the fleet of aging B-52 bombers has been replaced with newer B-1 and B-2 bombers.
The planes were positioned in the Pacific by US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which commands fleets of bombers, many of which are nuclear-capable, to maintain stability and deter potential threats.
Though these deployments are routine, they are likely to raise eyebrows in Beijing, where China has defiantly ignored a ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague by continuing to destabilize and militarize its man-made islands in the South China Sea.
"Our strategic bomber force routinely operates around the globe and with our regional allies and partners, and this deployment is one such demonstration of the US commitment to supporting global and regional security," said US Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney, STRATCOM's commander,in a statement.
"Bomber training missions ensure crews maintain a high state of readiness and proficiency and demonstrate our ability to provide an always-ready global strike capability, whenever and wherever we are called to do so," he said.
In June, the B-52s were deployed to Guam alongside the USS John C. Stennis and USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups in what was largely seen as a show of force. The B-52s' deployment coincided with a squadron of electronic-warfare planes, EA-18s, at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
The electronic attack squadron went to the region to "support routine operations that enhance regional maritime domain awareness and assure access to the air and maritime domains in accordance with international law.
While the Air Force maintains that these deployments are routine and for training purposes, China's increasingly aggressive behavior in militarizing the South China Sea, as well as its open talk of war, suggest that the planes serve a deterrent purpose.
In the South China Sea, which has effectively become Chinese air space because of the nation's radar outposts and military-grade runways, it's easy to see why the US would want long-range, nuclear-capable bombers and electronic attack aircraft in the region.
But the newer B-1s and B-2s represent the top notch of the US's airborne-deterrence capabilities. The US has no newer or stealthier bombers in its inventory. The newer bombers have electronic-warfare capabilities built in, and the B-2s' stealth design is ideal for penetrating contested air spaces.
"Bomber aircraft provide the USPACOM (US Pacific Command) area of responsibility with an effective deterrent capability, ensuring the regional security and stability of the US and our allies and partners," said US Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, commander of the Pacific Air Forces, in a statement.
"These bomber deployments visibly demonstrate our readiness and commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region," he said.