T hree Bombers Over Andersen Air Force Base, Guam
There are just three siblings left in the American family of bombers. There's venerable Boomer B-52, which first flew when Truman was in office and entered service before Ike had finished his first term. Generation X gets the B-1, a fast and powerful craft designed to fly under the radar. And then there's the millennial of the group, the too-advanced-for-its-time stealth B-2 spirit, a technological marvel with a production run cut short by the end of the Cold War. This week, for the first time ever, all three bombers had a family reunion of sorts at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
What were they all doing there?
Mostly training, but also the complicated work of “strategic power projection,” as the Air Force puts it. How do they do that, and what does it mean? First, all the bombers together flew over the base and then on separate missions over the South China Sea and parts of Northeast Asia.
Here's how the Air Force describes the mission:
The [Continuous Bomber Presence] mission and global strategic bomber deployments are part of a long-standing history of maintaining a consistent bomber presence in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region in order to maintain stability and provide assurance to U.S. allies and partners in the region. USPACOM's area of responsibility covers 52 percent of the globe, which makes strategic bombers an effective long-range global attack capability, assuring our allies while deterring potential adversaries.
The United States views its role as sole superpower in the world as tasked with maintaining the existing order, and as part of that America's military operates in various spheres across the globe. Area-wise, the largest is Pacific Command, or USPACOM, and the greater subtext of American action in the Pacific is easier to see in light of China. There's been a gradual increase in tensions in the region, and in the disputed South China Sea the People's Republic of China has built islands, and put weapons on those islands.
There's a lot of analysis elsewhere about what all these actions in the South China Sea really mean. For now, it means that the only way to get a bomber family reunion in the Pacific is if they can all fly together as a show of force.
Kelsey D. Atherton
Joshua Smoot, U.S. Air Force photo