(Reuters) – U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers landed in Guam this week in the long-range aircraft’s second deployment to the island this year amid regional tension over Taiwan and the looming prospect of a new North Korean nuclear test.
The U.S. military confirmed their temporary deployment to the U.S. Pacific territory as part of a “bomber task force” mission on Thursday, a day after aircraft-spotting websites reported their flight from home bases in the United States.
“It is … meant to send a message that the United States stands closely with its allies and partners to deter potential provocation,” Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder told a briefing, when asked if the mission was aimed at sending North Korea a message.
The bombers’ presence is also aimed at demonstrating that the United States has the capability to conduct global operations at any time, he added.
North Korea has conducted a record number of missile tests this year, including launching one over Japan. Officials in Washington and Seoul say North Korea also appears prepared to resume nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.
North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006.
The United States and its allies in South Korea and Japan have stepped up displays of military force in response to North Korea’s missile tests, including conducting naval drills with a U.S. aircraft carrier and staging major field exercises for the first time in years.
B-1B bombers have participated in shows of force against North Korea in previous years. North Korea denounces military exercises by the United States and its allies as provocative and proof of hostile intentions.
During their temporary stay in Guam, the bombers will partner with unspecified allied forces for several training missions in the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. Air Force said in a statement.
“The B-1 is an especially capable platform in this region, being able to travel large distances and bear significant firepower with precision and standoff munitions,” Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Mount, of the 37th Bomb Squadron, said in the statement.
Bomber task force missions “play a critical role in deterring potential adversaries and challenging their decision calculus”, another officer said.
Tension has also been high in recent months over self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims.
A visit to the island in August by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi enraged China, which subsequently launched military drills near the island. Those have continued, although on a much reduced scale.
(Reporting by Josh Smith)