The US Air Force redeployed three B-2 Spirit bombers and over 200 airmen from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam located in Hawaii on January 10. According to an official statement, the redeployment is part of a regular rotation of bomber aircraft in the Indo-Pacific region.
Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Dorr called the deployment "crucial" in helping the US to conduct military exercises with its regional allies. He further added that the move "validates [US] always-ready global strike capability". Dorr also said that the B-2 bomber deployment was meant to "showcase to a large American and international audience" that the US bombers are strike-ready 24/7.
This is the second time B-2 bombers have been deployed to the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Last time it happened in August 2018, when B-2s conducted several "local and long-duration sorties" and trained with the 199th Fighter Squadron's F-22 Raptors.
The deployment of the bombers comes amid ongoing tensions between Washington and Beijing over a trade row and the issue of the disputed South China Sea. The American destroyer USS McCampbell, armed with guided missiles, ventured into the sea's waters on January 7 as part of freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) despite protests from Beijing, which claims sovereignty over the area.
FONOPs are conducted under a freedom of navigation principle codified in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The US signed the convention, but has not yet ratified it. Despite this, Washington regularly conducts FONOPs in the South China Sea.