The warplanes and personnel arrived at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam on Friday, US Strategic Command announced in a statement, noting that three of the B-1B Lancers flew directly to the base, while one diverted to waters near Japan to train with the Navy before joining the others.
“Four bombers and approximately 200 airmen from the 9th Bomb Squadron, 7th Bomb Wing… deployed to support Pacific Air Forces’ training efforts with allies, partners and joint forces,” the military said in a statement, adding that the planes would also participate in “strategic deterrence missions to reinforce the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific region.”
A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth AFB conducts a mission over the South China Sea for a 32-hour round-trip sortie over the Pacific. #ReadyAF
U.S. Air Force 📸 by Senior Airmen Cynthia Belío & Nicolas Erwin pic.twitter.com/BT0qkrpQOi
— U.S. Air Force (@usairforce) May 1, 2020
The Air Force did not specify how long the new deployment would last, and earlier this month ended its standard six-month rotation of bombers in favor of a less “predictable” timetable.
The deployments come just one day after a pair of B-1s conducted a flyover of the South China Sea, making a 32-hour round trip from the Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota as part of a ‘show of force’ operation in the region.
Over the last week, Navy warships also made their presence known around disputed waters in the South China Sea, with a US guided missile destroyer sailing through the Taiwan Strait twice – both times with a Chinese aircraft carrier close in tow.
The destroyer was eventually escorted out of the area on Tuesday by Chinese air and naval assets after it, according to Beijing, “trespassed” near the contested Xisha Islands, also known as the Paracels.
Though the Air Force recalled all five of its B-52 Stratofortress bombers from Guam earlier this month, the B-1s replacing them are capable of carrying larger payloads, including 2,000-pound guided JDAM munitions and anti-ship cruise missiles.
The US military regularly conducts “freedom of navigation” missions and air patrols over the South China Sea, typically aimed at sending a message to Beijing, which has repeatedly slammed the operations as provocative and in violation of its sovereignty. The Chinese government has yet to respond to the latest deployment, but denounced the US naval missions near the Paracel Islands earlier this week.
The stepped up American presence in the region follows escalating rhetoric from US President Donald Trump toward Beijing, increasingly pinning blame on the country for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While little evidence has been offered to support the assertion, Trump insists China made a “mistake” and then “concealed” information in the early stages of the pandemic, claiming the World Health Organization abetted the so-called “cover-up.”