(From Reuters)

The United States is in talks to base long-range bombers in Australia, U.S. defense officials said, within striking distance of the disputed South China Sea, a move that could inflame tensions with China.

B-1 bomber flying over Pacific Ocean

The deployments could include B-1 bombers and an expansion of B-52 bomber missions, said Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a spokesman for the U.S. Air Force in the Pacific, stressing that discussions were continuing and no decisions had yet been reached.

“These bomber rotations provide opportunities for our Airmen to advance and strengthen our regional alliances and provide (Pacific Air Forces) and U.S. Pacific Command leaders with a credible global strike and deterrence capability to help maintain peace and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” said Pickart.

The United States does not currently fly B-1 bombers from Australia, but does conduct periodic B-52 missions.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declined to comment on the discussions.

“I can just assure you that everything we do in this area is very carefully determined to ensure that our respective military forces work together as closely as possible in our mutual national interests,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Should an agreement be reached, it would position further U.S. military aircraft close to the disputed South China Sea and risk angering China, analysts said. Read more

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