B-1B Bomber Brandishes A Belly Full Of Stealth Cruise Missiles While Deployed To Guam
The messaging is abundantly clear: U.S. bombers haven't tucked-tail and run from the region, and they stand ready to deliver a big, stealthy punch.
The "Bone" is back on the island of Guam and it brought with it the ability to deliver up to two dozen stealthy AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSMs)—the conventionally-armed bomber's weapon of choice during the opening stages of a major conflict—to America's warfighting capabilities in the Pacific. It's now abundantly clear that the Pentagon wants to make sure that friend and foe alike are aware of that fact based on the pictures the service just posted.
The photos show one of the B-1Bs currently calling Guam home having one of its three cavernous weapons bays stuffed with live JASSMs. The images showcase the fact that the B-1B can put even a peer state's most defended targets at risk from a standoff distance. The JASSM has a declared range of around 230 miles, while its enhanced successor, the JASSM-ER, can reach out and touch targets nearly 600 miles from its point of launch. The B-1B itself has an intercontinental range.
All told, it's a potent message to send and one that is fairly certain to get its intended recipient's attention.
We were the first to report last month on the Air Force's abrupt ending of its continuous bomber presence at Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam after a decade and a half. In that time, there were always a number of bombers assigned to the island outpost. We were also first to report on what would become a flurry of B-1B activity throughout the Pacific, with the swing-wing bombers flying roundtrip missions from the continental U.S. to as far as the South China Sea and back over the last few of weeks. Now, even though B-1Bs are back at Andersen Air Force Base, just how long the bombers will stick around there is anyone's guess.
What underpins this new strategy is a Pentagon's buzzword called 'dynamic force employment.' Basically, it entails going from being fairly predictable with the movements of strategic assets to being far less predictable in those deployments, albeit at the cost of persistence in a particular area of operations.
The grim reality is that all of America's runway-dependent airpower positioned from Guam west would have a huge target on it during the opening shots of a conflict with China. While Guam has a THAAD battery for ballistic missile defense, China would overwhelm any defenses with a massive barrage of ballistic missiles in an attempt to destroy any airpower there or at least neuter its effectiveness via denying it access to the runways and other support infrastructure it relies on.
With this in mind, not being so predictable doesn't seem like all that bad of an idea. Still, it's hard not to imagine that the move to end the continuous bomber presence at Andersen wasn't at least partially influenced by the state of America's overworked B-1B bomber fleet.
When it comes to loading cruise missiles onto a bomber at Andersen Air Force Base, it is no easy task. The base, with all its expansion and improvements over the years, still lacks the facilities needed to pre-load rotary launchers with missiles into 'packages' that can then be more rapidly uploaded onto bombers. Instead, each missile has to be loaded directly onto the jet, an arduous process that can take many hours. You can read all about this situation in this past piece of ours.
As things heat up in the South China Sea, it isn't a surprise that Pentagon is using its intermittent bomber missions in the region to send a variety of increasingly blunt messages. Above all else, it gives some credence to the idea that the end of the continuous bomber presence in the Pacific wasn't really a strategic withdrawal from what is an increasingly volatile part of the world.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com