12:54 GMT +326 June 2019
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    A US Air Force B-52 bomber

    Taunting China? US Strategic Bombers May Fly From Australia

    © AFP 2019 / Paul CROCK
    Asia & Pacific
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    The United States and Australia have come to an agreement in principle that may see American bombers and tankers fly through Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, the head of Pacific Air Forces said on Wednesday.

    General Lori Robinson told reporters in Washington, DC, that a general agreement with Canberra on a "force posture initiative" had been reached.

    Details of what type of aircraft might be sent to Tindal and when have not been finalized, but the United States hopes to use the air base in a similar way to its base in Guam in the western Pacific Ocean.

    "The idea is much like what we do in Guam – rotation of tankers and bombers to do training and working with Australian allies as well as training our pilots and air crews (on) what it's like in the region, to help them understand the vastness of that region," General Robinson said, according to National Defense Magazine.

    In December, a B-52 assigned to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, landed at RAAF Base Darwin for a training mission. Then in July, two B-52s from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, flew 44 hours to Australia’s Delamere Air Weapons Range and the RAAF Base Tindal, the Air Force Times reported.

    David Shear, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, told US Senators in May that the United States planned to send B-1 bombers to Australia. But soon after, Australia's then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Shear had misspoken.

    Defense officials have said that the US bomber presence in the Pacific is important for deterring potential adversaries and reassuring allies. The new long-range strike bomber – the contract for which was recently awarded to Northrop Grumman – could fill that role, Robinson said.

    "Our ability to power project through the theater would be one of the capabilities that we would want to have because … that shows a commitment to the theater," she said.

    The plans for increased aircraft rotations come as the United States strengthens its military presence in the Asia-Pacific in response to an increasingly assertive China.

    Washington recently sent a warship near artificial islands Beijing has constructed in the disputed South China Sea as a challenge to Chinese sovereignty claims in the region. The Air Force has not yet flown over any of the man-made islands, Robinson said, but is prepared to do so.

    While China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea, there are overlapping claims from Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

    tanker, bomber, Royal Australian Air Force, US Air Force, Australia, United States
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