Pacific Air Forces recently concluded a pioneering B-2 stealth bomber deployment to Hawaii — setting the stage for the isles to be used as one of a growing number of temporary bomber bases across the region in the face of advancing threats from China and Russia.
A trio of the batwing bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri spent a month and a half at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam — flying with Hawaii Air National Guard F-22 Raptor fighters and ranging out to Guam and remote Wake Island on training missions.
The flying wings — which stretch 172 feet from one wingtip to the other, have a crew of two, and are capable of carrying conventional or nuclear weapons — arrived Aug. 15 and left Sept. 27.
“The B-2 Spirits’ first deployment to (Hickam) highlights its strategic flexibility to project power from anywhere in the world,” Maj. Gen. Stephen Williams, director of air and cyberspace operations for Pacific Air Forces, said in a release.
Weapons crews practiced loading onboard BDU-50s — in this case non-explosive 500-pound practice bombs — on the Hickam flight line.
“This weapons load is the first stepping stone to loading live munitions from this location,” Master Sgt. Nicholas Lewis, a weapons section chief, said in the same release. “Furthermore, it provides pilots and load crews valuable training necessary to accomplish future (bomber) missions.”
The deployment was part of what the Air Force calls Agile Combat Employment, which is intended to disperse the force to make it harder for would-be enemies to pinpoint.
Air Force aircraft, including F-22 stealth fighters such as those based at Hickam, also will deploy more unpredictably, and sometimes in lesser numbers than usual.
A Senate report on the 2019 defense authorization notes that as part of its strategy for dealing with competition from China and Russia, the National Defense Strategy calls for a more lethal force transitioning away from large, centralized infrastructure to smaller, dispersed and resilient basing.
“U.S. force posture in the Indo-Pacific region remains heavily concentrated in Northeast Asia within range of China’s advanced arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles, posing a significant risk to forward-stationed forces,” the Armed Services Committee report states.
The committee called for the procurement of seven “deployable airbase systems” this fiscal year to be prepositioned forward in the Pacific to support logistics and enhance combat power.
Two of the B-2s that were deployed to Hawaii took off Sept. 6 to conduct training nearby and in the vicinity of Guam. A little over a week later, two more batwing bombers made a round-trip flight to Wake Island, a U.S. territory 2,450 miles west of Hawaii.
One of the aircraft conducted what the Air Force calls “hot-pit refueling,” meaning it refueled without its engines shutting down.
“This deployment shows that the B-2 stealth bomber force can do more than operate from Whiteman Air Force Base,” Lt. Col. Nicholas Adcock, the commander of the 393rd Bomber Squadron, said at the time. “It shows that we’re adaptable enough to fly and strike from at home or abroad.”
One of the “key integrations” involved B-2s and Hawaii Air Guard F-22s operating together.
“Like the B-2, the F-22 is virtually invisible to threats,” Pacific Air Forces said. “This makes them the perfect match for escorting the stealth bomber and providing situational awareness. The training helped polish the cohesion between the pilots.”
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