Three B-2s arrived on 12 August at Naval Support Facility located on Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean after departing from Whiteman Air Force Base, Montana. This is the first Spirit bomber task force deployment since a deployment to Hawaii in January 2019.
After the 29-hour flight to Diego Garcia, the B-2s joined B-1s that had already been deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. The operation marks the first time B-2s have been sent to the region since the US Air Force’s continuous bomber presence at the island base ended in April.
“We are excited to return to this important location. [Diego Garcia] puts the ‘INDO’ in INDOPACOM,” task force commander Lt. Col. Christopher Conant said in a Pacific Air Forces release. “This Bomber Task Force is our National Defense Strategy in action. We are sharpening our lethality while strengthening relationships with key allies, partners, and our sister-service teammates.”
While the bombers are supporting INDOPACOM, Diego Garcia also serves as a logistical base for bombers supporting combat operations in the US Central Command zone of operations. In January, B-52s from the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron deployed to Diego Garcia instead of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, due to tensions with Iran in the aftermath of the assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Suleimani. From the island location they flew combat sorties into Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
While the B-2s are stationed at Diego Garcia, they will train with partner nations and conduct missions in areas such as the South China Sea. During the 2019 task force, B-2s flew 27 sorties, totalling 171 hours in local and long-duration flights. LINK
Strategic bombers stationed at Diego Garcia are generally used against Iraq and Iran, along with some sorties into Afghanistan and the South China Sea. Particularly since the clash early this year the deployments are seen to target Iran, though in recent times the tensions in the South China Sea are also a factor, as noted by the Air Force statement.
Long-range sorties are also carried out from the island fortification in support of US carrier strike groups. Diego Garcia is a favoured location for the US to station bombers because of its proximity to several areas where the US is seeking to apply ‘maximum pressure’ against its adversaries.
Diego Garcia Island is subject to a territorial dispute and a legal challenge by its native population, which was forcibly expelled from the island by Britain before the island was leased to the US military. Despite ongoing lawsuits, neither the US nor Britain has any intention of allowing the islands original inhabitants to return.
Meanwhile, the B-1s at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam continue to fly long-range sorties. On August 7, a B-1 from the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron flew a bilateral training mission with 8 F-2s and 6 F-15s from the Japan Air Self Defence Force near Japan, and then flew a joint mission with the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group in the Sea of Japan, according to a PACAF release.
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