A B-1B Lancer

Long-range heavy bombers could be based in Australia, US general reveals

Updated 8th Mar 2016 at 8:44pm

The United States wants to regularly rotate long-range heavy bombers through Australia, as concerns grow over China’s military expansion in the Asia-Pacific region.

Key points:

  • US keen to station B-1 bombers in NT amid tension in South China Sea
  • Deployment would be in conjunction with RAAF
  • Australian Defence Minister confirms US presence will be greater

Commander of US Pacific Air Forces, General Lori Robinson, has revealed high-level discussions are underway to have American B-1 bombers and aerial tankers temporarily stationed in the Northern Territory.

“We’re in the process of talking about rotational forces, bombers and tankers out of Australia (Tindal and Darwin) and it gives us the opportunity to train with Australia”, she told reporters in Canberra.

“It gives us the opportunity to strengthen the ties we already have with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and it gives the opportunity to train our pilots to understand the theatre and how important it is to strengthen our ties with our great allies, the RAAF.”

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While acknowledging the risk of a “miscalculation” as a result of China’s rapid military build up in the South China Sea, General Robinson insisted the United States would continue to fly above and sail through the disputed waterway.

General Robinson is the latest US official to publicly call on Australia to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea.

“We would encourage anybody in the region and around the world to fly and sail in international air space in accordance with international rules and norms” she said.

“We would encourage all nations in the region to do just that, just as the United States is doing” General Robinson added.

Features of the B-1 bomber:

  • Manufactured by Boeing
  • Has the largest internal payload of any current bomber
  • Capable of rapidly delivering 84 227-kilogram bombs
  • Intended for high-speed, low-altitude penetration missions
  • Entered into service in 1986 in United States Air Force as a nuclear bomber
  • Is no longer armed with nuclear weapons, but is capable of carrying air launch cruise and short-range attack missiles

Last year former Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted a senior US official had “misspoke” when he told a congressional hearing there were plans to station long-range American bombers and surveillance aircraft in Australia.

Appearing before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May, US Defence Department Assistant Secretary David Shear said the Pentagon would be “placing additional air force assets in Australia” including “B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft”.

Australian Minister for Defence Marise Payne refused to be drawn on the deployment of long-range bombers, but said the US Air Force would have a larger presence in the country.

“The Enhanced Air Cooperation Initiative, which is part of the Force Posture Initiative, is in development and will result in increased rotations of US Air Force elements through Northern Australia,” Senator Payne said.

“Australia remains strongly supportive of the US rebalance to our near region, and we work together closely in support of our common regional interests.”

Vietnam, China, Malaysia have eyes on the prize

Explore the conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea

Rich in resources and traversed by a quarter of global shipping, the South China Sea is the stage for several territorial disputes that threaten to escalate tensions in the region.

At the heart of these disputes are a series of barren islands in two groups – the Spratly Islands, off the coast of the Philippines, and the Paracel Islands, off the coasts of Vietnam and China.