History was made on Wednesday when the U.S. Air Force flew one of each three nuclear-capable bombers together over the South China Sea and Northeast Asia for the first time. The B-52 Stratofortress, B-1B Lancer, and the B-2 Spirit all participated in integrated bomber operation training. The display of American military superiority was meant to enforce U.S. Strategic Command’s (STRATCOM) goal of constantly stationing nuclear-capable aircraft in the region to prevent aggression in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
This unique opportunity to fly all three bombers came when the B-1 and B-2s arrived to relieve the B-52s of their duties. The glorious trio took off from Andersen Air Force Base then dispersed to simultaneously carry out strategic operation training. A quick note to say that the B-1B originally was nuclear capable originally but as of 1995 no longer carries nuclear weapons. The B1-B could very easily do so if it was retrofitted again.
The Chinese have been bullying smaller nations—such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, and Vietnam—after erroneously claiming waters in the South China Sea as their own based on the outdated “nine-dash line” map from the 1940’s.
The flight is being seen as a response to several “shows of force” by the Chinese government. An international tribunal recently rejected Beijing’s claims over the area after the Philippines challenged China’s claim. Chinese officials flat out refused to acknowledge the tribunal’s ruling calling it nothing more than “a waste of paper.”
The Chinese have been carrying out extensive military drills in the area and has been systematically militarizing man-made islands to deter foreign nations from using the highly lucrative trade lanes that pass through the South China Sea. Over $5.3 trillion dollars of trade passes through the area, the U.S. accounts for up to $1.2 trillion of this total. If these lanes were to fall under control of the Chinese the effect on the global and U.S. economy could be devastating.
Brig. Gen. Douglas Cox, the 36th Wing commander see the historic flight as an effort to reinforce American presence in the area and deter any aggressive action from the Chinese. He commented on the flight stating:
“This mission demonstrated the U.S. commitment to supporting global security and our ability to launch a credible strategic defense force,”
Showing the Chinese that American bombers with nuclear capabilities may keep Chinese aggression in check. Several military officials stated that the flight was a unique opportunity to build cohesiveness and readiness among the bomber pilots and service members stationed on the ground at Andersen Air Force Base.
The Chinese government has not issued an official statement on the flight or training mission the planes engaged in.