Rockwell B-1B Lancer supersonic-capable strategic bombers and personnel assigned to the USAF’s 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (EBS) returned to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, on March 5 after completing a four-week Bomber Task Force (BTF) deployment to the Indo-Pacific region.
According to the USAF, this latest BTF deployment – which saw an undisclosed number of B-1Bs arrive at Andersen AFB, Guam, on February 1 – showcased the readiness and capability of the B-1B, with the 34th EBS conducting 30 flying sorties across the Indo-Pacific region across a 31-day period. The 34th EBS kickstarted this deployment by joining USAF F-22A Raptors and Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF)-operated F-35A Lightning IIs for a bilateral training mission near the Yellow Sea.
While deployed to Guam, the B-1Bs carried out a variety of missions in which they integrated with US allies and partner nations in the Indo-Pacific and participated in Exercise Cope North 2023 – which was held at various locations across the Western Pacific from February 8-24 – and the biennially held Aero India air show and exhibition that was hosted by the Indian Air Force at Yelahanka Air Force Station, Bengaluru, from February 13-17.
Exercise Cope North 2023 served as a platform for participating nations and air arms to hone their readiness skills and enhance interoperability skills across a variety of mission sets, ranging from air superiority, interdiction and electronic warfare to tactical airlift and air-to-air refuelling. Meanwhile, Aero India 2023 provided an opportunity for the US to strengthen its relationship with India and the wider international community, according to the USAF.
Commenting on the conclusion of this latest deployment, Lt Col Ross Hobbs – commander of the 34th Bomb Squadron (BS) ‘World Famous Thunderbirds’ – said: “The 34th [EBS] just completed an incredible deployment with simultaneous, multi-nation B-1 operations validating Agile Combat Employment (ACE) concepts, flying and integrating in the multi-nation exercise Cope North 23, and countless hours of tactical planning and airborne integration with USAF units, US Navy air and maritime forces, the [Japan Air Self-Defense Force] and the [ROKAF].
“On top of all that, the arguably most impressive thing the team accomplished during our deployment, was the in-country support to Aero India 23 in Bengaluru, India, where we conducted three flyovers in a three-day span for Asia’s largest air show crowds,” he added.
While USAF BTF missions to the Indo-Pacific are not uncommon, these rather routine deployments come as tensions between China and Taiwan continue to rise, prompted by fears that the former is posturing to invade the latter – a threat that has been building for a number of years. It also comes after North Korea fired the most ballistic missiles in a single year since Kim Jong-Un, the nation’s supreme leader, rose to power in 2011. In addition, such deployments come as China maintains its solidarity with Russia as it continues to wage war on Ukraine. The B-1Bs arrived in Guam just days before a USAF F-22A was used to shoot down a Chinese-made high-altitude balloon, which was believed to be conducting surveillance on a number of military facilities across the continental US, causing tensions between the two global superpowers to increase further.
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.