US aircraft refuel during a friendship event at Iwakuni Air Base in Iwakuni City, Japan, on May 5, 2018. Photo: AFP/The Yomiuri Shimbun

The United States needs more tanker aircraft squadrons to compete with the increasingly powerful Chinese military, Voice of America reported on October 10.

“The challenges in the Pacific is the tyranny of distance, and that means tanker squadrons are very important,” VOA quoted US Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson as saying.

The US Air Force recently announced plans to increase the number of tanker squadrons, which are needed to refuel aircraft in flight, from 40 to 54 by 2030.

In September, American B-52 bombers conducted transit operations in international airspace over the South China and East China seas, which the Pentagon said were part of its “continuous bomber presence” and Beijing called “provocative.”

According to VOA, the new tanker plans are part of a proposed overall strengthening of US air force capabilities and part of US President Donald Trump’s new National Defense Strategy, which prioritizes great power competition with Russia and China over the counter-terrorism efforts of previous administrations.

The plan has come under criticism from liberals as well as conservatives, who argue that increases in the military budget raises US debt at a time when lawmakers should be cutting federal spending.

The counterargument from US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is that “it’s expensive. We recognize that. But it’s less expensive than fighting a war with somebody who thought we were weak enough that they could take advantage.”

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