The US Air Force’s bomber fleet has been very busy, carrying out frequent missions in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
These flights must “ensure that the chess pieces move regularly,” said the Air Force Chief of Staff.
The Air Force needs to be “thoughtful” about the messages it sends to adversaries, General Charles Brown said.
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The growing activity of U.S. Air Force bombers is part of a concerted effort to show that these planes can fly when and where they want, the senior military officer said last week. air.
“It’s the ability of global air power … and the ability to operate and be ready to go anywhere, anywhere, anytime,” the general told reporters on Wednesday. Charles Brown, Air Force Chief of Staff.
Brown’s comments came in response to a question about the deployment of B-1B bombers this month in Norway, the first time that US bombers have operated from that country.
“Will it happen again in Norway? Probably a good chance. When? It could happen at any time,” Brown said. “It’s all about the competition, and if I told you exactly when that was going to happen, I wouldn’t participate, because you would report it.”
U.S. bombers have made shorter overseas deployments and round-trip flights from the United States as part of Dynamic Force Employment, a concept in which U.S. forces aim to “ be strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable, ” Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Middents told Insider. in October.
Middents flew six B-52 bombers on a five-week bomber, or BTF, mission to the UK in August. The BTFs are supposed to demonstrate this flexibility – during Middents’ five-week mission, bombers flew throughout the region.
Another BTF last spring took the B-1Bs to Sweden for the first time. Five times since mid-November, US-based bombers have flown to the Middle East and returned to BTFs which US officials say are aimed at deterring Iran.
Bombers are also more active in the Indo-Pacific region, where the Air Force announced in early 2020 the end of its continued bomber presence, a 16-year mission in which bombers have deployed. in Guam for months at a time.
The BTF missions have “really, really succeeded,” Pacific Air Chief General Kenneth Wilsbach told reporters in November, adding that in the first nine months of the BTFs, “we actually flew over bomber-type missions, as we have done in the last nine months of the continued bomber presence. “
The first BTF under the current model took place in May, when B-1Bs were deployed to Anderson Air Force Base in Guam. Since then, American bombers have operated from Guam, Diego Garcia and Alaska, or have flown from the United States to train with partners in the region.
The purpose of the BTFs is to “restore bomber readiness with fewer continuous deployments and to complicate the targeting problem” for the adversaries “by deploying and applying pressure at times and places of our choosing”, Brig . Gen. Jeremy Sloane, 36 Wing commander at Andersen Air Force Base, said at an event in January.
“So far, Bomber Task Force deployments have been quite frequent, so we really haven’t been able to take any significant lessons learned while we made this change,” Sloane added.
The Air Force is trying to keep adversaries unaware of these operations, Brown said last week.
“I want to make sure that the chess pieces move smoothly and that they’re not… super glued to the chessboard,” Brown said. “You can expect to see more bombers flying around the world to do just that.”
Sending clear messages
The Indo-Pacific region is expected to be the focus of the US military for years to come.
A few days after President Joe Biden took office, bombers again deployed in Guam. In February, a B-1B became the first American bomber to land in India since World War II.
The Pentagon this month announced a review of the military’s global footprint, which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said would brief his advice to Biden on “how best to allocate military forces to the pursuit of national interests “.
Austin adopted the 2018 National Defense Strategy, but that review won’t be complete until mid-year, leaving the Biden administration’s perspective on the military’s global role uncertain until then.
“Considering Biden’s recent arrival as President and the fact that his administration does not yet have an Asia strategy, I can only attribute the bomber deployments to bureaucratic inertia,” Van Jackson said, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.
The Trump administration “has committed US military resources to all kinds of coercive signals and crushes,” Jackson said. Trump was not and Biden has no intention of going on the offensive militarily, Jackson added, “but with military signals you are playing with the risk of misperception.”
This risk exists elsewhere. Under Trump, US military activity in Europe became more assertive, even as he called for troop withdrawals there.
If the trend continues, “you might see an escalation in military activity that puts the environment under pressure for no obvious reason, if not left to their own devices, military commanders will increase activity,” Michael Kofman , a senior researcher in the Russia Studies program at nonprofit research group CNA, told Insider in November.
There aren’t many obvious benefits to be gained from this signage, Jackson said, and Biden’s team should be wary of “the many landmines Trump has hidden in the bureaucracy.”
“The Pentagon in particular has gotten used to operating without adult supervision. It’s a stupid reason to play with the risk of war,” added Jackson, who previously worked at the Defense Department.
Asked about future bombing operations last week, Brown said there were many options “pushing the buttons for our adversaries.”
But the Air Force needs to be “thoughtful” about the message it sends, added Brown, who said the service needs to develop “a deep institutional understanding of China and Russia.”
“We just can’t … send bombers,” Brown said. “We need to think about … what is the desired effect we want to have with every action we take. It takes more thought on our part, but it also takes more thought to understand our adversaries.”
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