Although the move signifies the close of a 16-year mission as part of the Continuous Bomber Presence mission, the change doesn’t mean strategic bombers won’t operate in the Indo-Pacific anymore, the Air Force said.
“In line with the National Defense Strategy, the United States has transitioned to an approach that enables strategic bombers to operate forward in the Indo-Pacific region from a broader array of overseas locations, when required, and with greater operational resilience, while these bombers are permanently based in the United States,” Air Force Global Strike Command said in a statement.
“U.S. strategic bombers will continue to operate in the Indo-Pacific, to include Guam, at the timing and tempo of our choosing,” the statement said.
Air Force Strike Command did not disclose to Air Force Times specific locations where the aircraft will operate in the region, citing operational security concerns. However, the command said the Air Force will keep training with allies and continue to evaluate its overseas posture.
“We will maximize all opportunities to train alongside our allies and partners to build interoperability and bolster our collective ability to be operationally unpredictable,” the command said. “We continually reassess our overseas posture and adjust to meet the requirements of the Joint Force and combatant commanders as well as our treaty commitments.”
The decision follows a so-called “elephant walk” on Andersen’s runway on April 13, where five B-52 strategic bombers joined an Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk, KC-135 Stratotankers, a Navy MQ-4C Triton, and a Navy MH-60S Knighthawk stationed in Guam.
The “elephant walk” came days after the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and its strike group made its way through the Miyako Strait near Japan and Taiwan, according to the South China Morning Post. Guam is more than 2,500 miles from Beijing.
According to The Drive, who was the first to report on the development, the official Defense Visual Information Distribution Service also posted photos on April 14 of B-52s in Guam and labeled the images “Last Continuous Bomber Presence Mission on Guam.” The titles were subsequently modified to “Andersen remains ready.”
Air Force Global Strike Command additionally foreshadowed a potential shakeup in a social media post on Thursday.
“Our diverse bomber fleet – B-52, B-1 & B-2 – allows us to respond to global events anytime, anywhere,” Air Force Global Strike Command said in the post. “Whether they’re launched from Louisiana, Guam, or the U.K., long-range strategic bombers have and will remain a bedrock of our deterrence! #DynamicForceEmployment.”
According to the National Defense Strategy former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis put forth in 2018, the dynamic force employment concept encourages the military to be less predictable. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has reiterated that his primary objective is implementing the National Defense Strategy and addressing threats from China and Russia.
According to online military aircraft tracker Aircraft Spots, five B-52Hs had left Guam and were headed to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota on April 16.