Taiwanese newspapers reported on Friday that at least two B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers believed to be from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam had overflown parts of the East China Sea a day before, close to Taiwan’s littoral waters and those claimed by China, after they hurtled past the Miyako Strait between Taiwan and Japan’s southern outlying islets.
It was reported that the B-52s deliberately activated their automatic dependent surveillance broadcast system to announce their presence and flight route, so that even aviation enthusiasts could observe their flight in real time on their flight-tracking platforms.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has neither confirmed nor denied reports that the US warplanes could have skirted its flight information region (FIR), namely areas surrounding the island and its waters but not necessarily its territorial airspace.
The ministry only noted that it had been keeping tabs on all activities and flights within and close to its airspace and waters, and that Taiwan would never be the intended target of any military maneuvers by the US, the island’s unofficial ally, within the region.
It was the first time this year that US B-52s had shot over or even entered Taiwan’s FIR. The B-52s originated from the US territory of Guam, buzzed the East China Sea, and shot over Japan’s Okinawa on their return to base.
The Pentagon has previously indicated that overflights of strategic areas in international airspace across the Asia-Pacific region are part of “routine training” exercises by its Pacific Air Forces and that US aircraft in the region are on “continuous bomber presence missions.”
There are six B-52s based in the vital outpost of Guam, as well as a number of B-1 Lancer heavy bombers and B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers, part of the redeployment of the US bomber fleet in 2018 under US Indo-Pacific Command’s strategic reorganization.
The heavier US bomber presence is apparently meant to reassure America’s official and unofficial allies in the region and to counterbalance the increased capabilities and reach of the People’s Liberation Army’s H-6K as well as other more advanced strategic bombers under development or under trial by the Chinese military.
The PLA has retrofitted the H-6 bomber, based on a Soviet fuselage, and flown the warplane in intensified circumnavigation missions targeting Taiwan since the second half of 2018. There have also been talks that the H-6K and the H-20, the PLA’s more advanced indigenous bomber, can pierce through the First and Second Island Chains to reach Guam if refueled en route.
The National Interest magazine this week published an article by defense editor David Axe titled “The Air Force wants to use B-52 bombers to protect Taiwan from invasion.”
The B-52H, the latest variant of the legendary bomber made by Boeing, has a range of more than 14,000 kilometers and can reach Taiwan in four hours from Guam while carrying cruise and nuclear missiles.
In April, in a possible intrusion of China’s air defense zone, two B-52s reportedly flew within 250km of Guangdong’s coastline in southern China. The bombers flew westward into the northern portion of the South China Sea and circled for about an hour above the Pratas Islands controlled by Taiwan, about 340km southeast of Hong Kong, before following another zigzag path back to Guam.