The U.S. Air Force is deploying six B-52H Stratofortress bombers and approximately 300 airmen from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in coming days for the continuous bomber presence mission in the Pacific.
The move marks a significant shift to bring back the B-52H, which held on to the CBP mission from 2006 to 2016, putting a nuclear-capable bomber in theater at a time when relations between the U.S. and North Korea are largely unpredictable.
Additionally, the swap comes as the B-1B bomber aircrews anticipate returning to the Middle East in coming months and have been training for the evolving battlespace in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, according to officials at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.
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Military.com sat down with leaders from Air Force Global Strike Command's 7th Bomb Wing -- responsible for producing combat-ready aircrews in the service's only formal B-1B training unit -- during a trip to the base last month, and took a ride Dec. 19 in a Lancer over training ranges in New Mexico.
B-1Bs from Ellsworth are likely to be the first back in rotation in the Middle East, according to Lt. Col. Dominic "Beaver" Ross, director of operations for the 337th Test and Evaluations Squadron. The B-1s from Dyess would swap in a few months later.
The non-nuclear-capable B-1s, known as the "Bone," left the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in early 2016, and were replaced by Stratofortress bombers at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, that April.
The B-1B, which made its first flight in 1984, has been the face of deterrence in the U.S. Pacific Command's area of responsibility for the last 18 months, marking the first time the B-1B has been housed at Andersen since 2006.
Officials at Dyess said the B-1 made strides during its deployment to the Pacific, reassuring allies and acting as a deterrent against North Korea even if it no longer is a nuclear-capable platform.
"The feedback we receive from the bases and combatant commands we support is very positive in the sense that these Global Strike platforms, at the end of the day, there's a deterrent value, certainly our allies see the assurance value, and that we are ready strike. That's essentially, that's what we do," Col. Brandon Parker, 7th Bomb Wing commander, said during a roundtable interview Dec. 18.
"Basically, you're showing that you're there," added Lt. Col. Christopher Wachter, director of operations for the 345th Bomb Squadron at Dyess.
During a show of force -- which the supersonic B-1s conducted on multiple occasions with South Korea and Japan's air forces, carrying out simulated air-to-ground bomb drops in recent months -- "you're showing that, 'Yes, I have the capability, if national authority says so, to release weapons,' " Wachter said.
"You're reminding a potential adversary that their actions will have second- and third-order effects. You're assuring your allies that we're with them ... We're there to be hopeful in order to uphold those values of freedom. And if it's by a show of force, [we're] saying, 'We're here and we don't like your bellicose attitude, we don't like that you're firing missiles across one of our friends sovereign territories,' then that's what we'll do," Wachter said.
When deploying the bomber fleet to any theater, "It's a big deal," Parker said.
"Whether it's a B-2 [Spirit,] B-52 or B-1, there's still just great value when you send these planes abroad," he said.