In order to thwart China’s ambitions for the South China Sea, the U.S. military is planning to send B-1 strategic bombers and surveillance aircraft in Australia, according to a senior U.S. government official.
U.S. Defense Department Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs David Shear said in his testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that along with stationing U.S. Navy and Army units in the Western Pacific region, “we will be placing additional Air Force assets in Australia as well, including B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft,” as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.
He also said in a separate statement that there was “a pattern of behaviour that raises concerns China is trying to assert de facto control over disputed territories, and strengthen its military presence in the South China Sea.”
The latest move comes as Obama administration seeks to “assert freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea.
China’s foreign ministry said U.S.’s announcement raised a “serious concern.”
In a press conference in Beijing, spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “We think the United States has to issue a clarification about this. China has always upheld freedom of navigation in the South China Sea but freedom of navigation certainly does not mean that foreign military ships and aircraft can enter another country’s territorial waters or airspace at will,” she said.
“China will resolutely uphold its territorial sovereignty.
“We demand the relevant side talk and act cautiously and not take any actions that are risky or provocative to maintain regional peace and stability.”
According to ABC News, currently the plane – which can deliver 84 bombs weighing 227 kilograms each “against any adversary, anywhere in the world, at any time” – is being used against the Islamic State militancy in Iraq.
Shear said that sending air units to Australia is part of the growing militarization in the region, including a move to strengthen the troops in Darwin and other U.S. bases in the Pacific.
He said, “We will be moving significant numbers of Marines to Hawaii, Guam and Australia.
“So we will have a very strong presence, very strong continued posture throughout the region to back our commitments to our allies, to protect and work with our partners and to continue ensuring peace and stability in the region.
“As well as back our diplomacy viz-a-viz China on the South China Sea.”
The U.S. Air Force first used B-1 Lancer bomber, also called “Bone,” in the mid 1980’s. It is expected to be used as a strategic bomber until mid-2030’s.
They have been deployed to Darwin to participate in exercises with the Royal Australian Air Force in 2012 and late 2014. This was following a joint Force Posture Initiative that was agreed upon by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and U.S. President Barack Obama in 2011.
Although the plane was designed to carry nuclear weapons, it has been used to drop conventional bombs. According to The New Daily, B-1 bombers were deployed in the 2003 Iraq War.
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