The U.S. Air Force is sending bombers with thousands of hours of combat experience to Guam this week to bolster the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific, the service says.
The B-1B Lancer bombers from the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron dropped more than 2,000 “smart bombs” during more than 630 missions over Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan from January to July of 2015, officials at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam said. Those missions covered more than 7,000 hours of flight time.
“The B-1 units bring a unique perspective and years of repeated combat and operational experience from the Central Command theater to the Pacific,” said a statement from Pacific Air Forces headquarters in Hawaii.
Guam is a U.S.-controlled island territory in the western Pacific, some 1,550 miles east of the Philippines.
“With a large weapon capacity and exceptional standoff strike capability, the B-1 will provide U.S. Pacific Command and its regional allies and partners with a credible, strategic power projection platform,” the statement said.
The B-1s, which are expected to arrive in Guam on Saturday, come to the region during a time of heightened tensions, mainly arising from territorial claims among China and other nations over islands in the South China Sea and missile tests from North Korea that on Wednesday saw one missile fall in waters that Japan considers part of its exclusive economic zone.
In the South China Sea dispute, the U.S. military has been asserting freedom-of-navigation rights by sending ships and planes into the area. Late last month, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said those activities, which China has called threats to its sovereignty, would continue.
The U.S. has used bombers operating from Guam to make flights over South Korea and let North Korea know that Washington fully supports its allies in Seoul.
The most recent of those flights was by a B-52 in January after a North Korean nuclear test.
“This was a demonstration of the ironclad U.S. commitment to our allies in South Korea, in Japan, and to the defense of the American homeland,” the head of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., said at the time.
CNN’s Will Ripley was in the North Korean capital then.
“They absolutely took notice,” Ripley said of the North Koreans. “A lot of North Korean military commanders find U.S. bombers especially threatening, given the destruction here in Pyongyang during the Korean War, when much of the city was flattened,” Ripley said.
With a top speed of 900-plus mph, the B-1s have the largest payload of any U.S. bomber.
The “smart bombs” deployed by the four-engine, 95-ton bombers are formally called Joint Direct Attack Munitions. JDAMs are tail sections with GPS navigation capabilities that are attached to 2,000-, 1,000- and 500-pound bombs, enabling increased accuracy in any weather conditions.
The B-1s will be based on Guam indefinitely, Andersen AFB officials said. They will operate as part of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence, the first time B-1s have been part of that operation in a decade. They replace the older B-52s of the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron in that role.
The B-52s have logged 1,600 flying hours covering 650,000 miles since they arrived in Guam in April. One of the eight-engine bombers was destroyed in a May 19 crash on Guam, which base officials said this week was still under investigation.
By Brad Lendon