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B-2 stealth bombers fly in for first deployment in Hawaii

A B-2 bomber flies over Europe in this undated Air Force photo.

KEN BERGMANN/U.S. AIR FORCE

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: August 17, 2018

HONOLULU, Hawaii (Tribune News Service) — Three batwing B-2 stealth bombers are in Hawaii for their first deployment to the state, Pacific Air Forces said.

The bombers, which are capable of carrying nuclear and conventional weapons, flew into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Wednesday from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

“The three B-2s and respective aircrew, maintainers and support personnel will use this short-term deployment to conduct training sorties designed to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and enhance regional security,” Pacific Air Forces, headquartered at Hickam, said in a statement.

The Air Force said B-2 Spirits regularly rotate through the Indo-Pacific region “to conduct routine air operations, which integrate capabilities with key regional partners.”

In the past, however, bombers have flown over Hawaii, practiced bombing runs at Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii island using dummy bombs, and returned to mainland bases.

Air Force bombers also have stopped at Hickam on their way to Guam or Japan, and also flown from Guam to Hawaii and back to Guam.

But this is the first B-2 deployment to Hawaii, Pacific Air Forces said.

Retired Navy Capt. Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center and a professor at Hawaii Pacific University, said he thinks the Hawaii rotation is part of Defense Secretary James Mattis’ “effort to make us more unpredictable strategically.”

“Training and operating out of Hawaii implies we are preparing or becoming ready for short-notice staging of those aircraft in Hawaii,” Schuster said.

Training in Hawaii increases the ability to move rapidly and complicates hostile nations’ efforts to anticipate U.S. moves, he said.

If done routinely for training and presence, the United States can increase its bomber presence in Hawaii without it appearing to be in response to a particular incident, thereby increasing deterrence, Schuster said.

Deploying to Guam “sends a strong signal,” Schuster added, but training and operating in Hawaii for periods of time “puts them 12 hours closer to North Korea and the South China Sea.”

The more than $1 billion B-2s have a crew of two pilots and are about the size of a cargo van inside. They can carry a 40,000-pound payload.

The B-2’s stealth is derived from a combination of reduced infrared, acoustic, electromagnetic, visual and radar signatures, according to the Air Force.

In its fiscal 2019 presidential budget request, the Air Force said it planned to update the B-52 Stratofortress bomber fleet and continue with B-1 Lancer and B-2 modifications while also acquiring new B-21 Raiders that also have a batwing configuration.

The Raider is expected to be fielded in the mid-2020s, while the B-52 — which first flew in 1952 — is slated to have a nearly 100-year service life through 2050 with upgrades, according to the Air Force.

In February, Gen. Robin Rand, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, noted that in 1991 at the end of Operation Desert Storm, the Air Force had 290 bombers.

“Today that force has dropped to 157 bombers at five bomb wings and 15 total force bomb squadrons,” Rand said at the time. “That’s a 46 percent decrease in our bomber force while we have conducted continuous combat operations.”

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