B-2 Spirit bombers are returning to Hawaii to project American power in the Indo-Pacific region. The deployment comes amid heightened tensions between the US and China, who square off in trade and over several contested waterways.
“Deploying to Hawaii enables us to showcase to a large American and international audience that the B-2 is on watch 24 hours a day, seven days-a-week, ready to protect our country and its allies,” Lt. Col. Joshua Dorr, 393rd Bomb Squadron director of operations said, announcing the deployment of three B-2 Spirit bombers and 200 airmen to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.
While the Air Force did not explicitly mention China or any other rival in its statement, it noted that the stealth bombers, sent to Honolulu on a rotational basis to support the Strategic Command’s Bomber Task Force (BTF) mission, will stand ready to validate the American “always-ready global strike capability” across the largest operations theater of the American armed forces.
“The B-2’s low-observable, or ‘stealth,’ characteristics give it the ability to penetrate an enemy’s most sophisticated defenses and put at risk their most valuable targets,” the Air Force emphasized.
It is the second time the Spirit has been deployed to Pearl Harbor in support of the BTF mission. During the first rotation from August -September 2018, the bombers flew a number of missions and trained alongside F-22 tactical fighters. In the past, the stealth bombers practiced their maneuvers at the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, and come in handy as a show of force against North Korea.
The return of strategic bombers to Hawaii coincided with the stationing of the Chinese DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) in the “plateau and desert areas” of the northwestern part of the country. Capable of striking targets 4,000 miles away, the missile, known as the ‘Guam killer,’ makes Andersen Air Force Base a potential target of a Chinese attack.
The missiles’ range also allows Beijing to protect its sovereignty over the South China and East China Seas, where the Asian giant has territorial claim disputes with its neighbors. The Taiwan Strait also falls within the weapon’s range. The announcement of the IRBM deployment followed USS McCampbell’s intrusion in the South China Sea, which prompted the Chinese to once-again urge the US to “immediately cease this kind of provocation” conducted under the so-called freedom of navigation principle.
Amid the rising tensions in the Pacific, exacerbated by the Sino-American trade war, Chinese president Xi Jinping recently ordered his army to be prepared for war. “[China must] prepare for a comprehensive military struggle from a new starting point…” Xi said earlier this month. “Preparation for war and combat must be deepened to ensure an efficient response in times of emergency.”
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