For the second time this year, the US Air Force (USAF) has deployed Rockwell B-1B Lancer supersonic-capable strategic bombers to Andersen Air Force Base (AFB), Guam, to conduct multilateral training operations with allied nations in the region, as tensions continue to rise in the Indo-Pacific.
This rotation – which involves an unspecified number of B-1Bs from the 28th Bomb Wing (BW) at Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota, operating under the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (EBS) – marks the second time that the Lancer has conducted a Bomber Task Force (BTF) deployment to the Indo-Pacific this year. The deployed aircraft and associated personnel arrived at Andersen AFB on October 18, from which the bombers and their crews will take part in several training missions with regional allies in the Indo-Pacific.
While BTF deployments to the region are not uncommon, this particular rotation comes as tensions between China and Taiwan continue to rise, prompted by fears that the former is positioning to invade the latter – a threat that has been building for a number of years. It also comes after North Korea fired the most missiles in a single year – including the firing of a ballistic missile over Japan on October 3 – since Kim Jong-Un, the nation’s supreme leader, rose to power in 2011. It also comes as North and South Korean forces exchange warning shots over the maritime border following claims of ‘intrusions’ and China renews its solidarity with Russia as it continues its war on Ukraine.
Commenting on this deployment, Col Joseph Sheffield – commander of the 28th BW at Ellsworth – said: “This Bomber Task Force demonstrates continued US commitment to the Pacific. Not only does it provide our B-1 aircrew invaluable training opportunities with important allies and partners, but it also signals our nation’s unwavering support to them. At the same time, BTFs like this one play a critical role in deterring potential adversaries and challenging their decision calculus.”
USAF BTF missions enable strategic bombers (B-1Bs, B-2As and B-52Hs) to forward deploy to a number of overseas and continental US facilities with the objective of enhancing strategic predictability and operational unpredictability, as was outlined in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Such deployments are conducted to enhance readiness for a variety of Air Force personnel and train airmen to respond to potential crises or challenges in the region they are operating in. BTF missions typically deploy to Europe or the Indo-Pacific regions.
Lt Col Daniel Mount, director of operations for the 37th Bomb Squadron (BS) ‘Tigers’, added: “Bomber Task Force deployments and missions provide key assurances and cooperation with joint and partner allies in the region. The B-1 is an especially capable platform in this region, being able to travel large distances and bear significant firepower with precision and stand-off munitions.
“Our maintenance professionals will be responsible for preparing, maintaining, and launching B-1s for long duration missions across the AOR [Area of Responsibility]. Our support personnel will be ensuring that our logistics bed-down, cargo, planning networks, flight records and medical requirements run seamlessly. Lastly, our aircrew will fly and integrate across several multinational exercises to sharpen their warfighting skills specific to the region. We are excited to get started and are thankful to have had a warm welcome with tremendous support and facilities from the Andersen AFB team.”
Earlier this year, four B-1Bs deployed to Andersen for a BTF mission. A number of missions were carried out by the deployed Lancers from Guam, including aerial integration with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) and a hot pit refuelling operation with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) at RAAF Base Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory – marking a new first for the B-1B fleet, which will ultimately be phased out and replaced in USAF service by the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider long-range strategic stealth bomber in the future.