As North Korea’s KCNA news agency said the country is ‘examining’ plans to launch missile strikes on the US territory of Guam, it’s worth reflecting on the Global Bomber Presence on the Pacific Island, which is now manned by B-1 squadrons on rotation from the continental US.
Last year, the US Air Force marked a significant moment for the B-1B Lancer as the 28th Bomb Wing from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, deployed to operate under the 36th Wing at Andersen AFB, Guam, on August 6, replacing B-52Hs from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, North Dakota. The arrival of the Lancers marked the first time the bombers had deployed in support of US Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence (CBP) mission, since April 2006.
For the B-1 community, the Guam commitment signaled a step change in the way it has been conducting combat operations in recent years — a move back to the strategic mission. Lt Col Nick Yates is leading the second B-1 Guam deployment under this new initiative, as commander of the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (EBS). Operating in the Pacific theater has far reaching regional implications as he explained to Combat Aircraft. ‘From being locked into the tactical [Close Air Support — CAS] mission set in the CENTCOM region, we are now part of a role that has significant strategic implications and one that marks a very different perspective for us.’ He says that the recent focus on CAS for the B-1 in CENTCOM may have yielded an immediate return in terms of kinetic strikes and feedback, however he says of the Guam mission: ‘this is the bigger picture with huge implications and a very high state of readiness.’
Guam sits remotely in the western Pacific, with Japan, South Korea and Australia all within easy range for the B-1. It means that working with these key neighbors is a regular occurrence for the B-1 crews. ‘We are able to reach places that we wouldn’t normally touch from either the Continental US or from our CENTCOM base that we’ve flown from over the past decade. So it’s a very different situation here, and we can execute a lot of our missions that we cannot easily achieve back home in Texas.’ The B-1s also regularly make landfall to work the ranges near Okinawa, Japan, or in South Korea.
The full version of this feature appears in the August edition of Combat Aircraft.