The US Air Force is reportedly planning to deploy up to six nuclear-capable B-52 Stratofortress bombers to northern Australia as part of the country’s efforts to strengthen security ties amid growing concerns about China’s invasion of Taiwan.
According to an investigation by ABC’s Four Corners, the US planned to build facilities at Tindal Air Base in Australia’s Northern Territory to house the nuclear-capable bombers.
The expected completion date of the facilities and the source of information were not specified in the report. The report, however, said US authorities had drawn up plans for a “squadron operations facility” that would include a maintenance facility and parking facilities for six aircraft.
“The US Air Force’s ability to deploy bombers in Australia sends a strong message to adversaries about our ability to project lethal air power,” the US Air Force told an Australian television station.
The large aircraft, which has a wingspan of 56 meters, can carry nuclear and conventional weapons and has a combat range of over 14,000 kilometers.
The B-52 Stratofortress fleet, which joined the US military during the Cold War and is expected to remain in service until 2050, is a critical element of US defense strategy.
Australia and the US are strengthening their longstanding security ties in light of growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing in the Indo-Pacific region. In the past year, the two nations have already signed several important agreements, including the AUKUS partnership.
In September 2021, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States announced AUKUS, a new security agreement that allows Australia to develop a fleet of nuclear submarines by 2040.
Caroline Kennedy, the US ambassador, spoke to the ABC on October 31, but did not comment on the B-52 report. Instead, he said the region had “rising tensions” and that Australia could rely on its long-time ally.
However, the latest development comes as the US continues to show concern over the escalating threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Earlier this month, a senior US Navy admiral warned that the US military must be ready to repel an invasion that could happen as soon as this year.
The Chinese Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan, but claims ownership of the self-governing island. Beijing has long argued that while it prefers “peaceful reunification,” it may use force, particularly if the island formally declares independence.
The Tindal Air Base project, which could cost up to $100 million and be completed by 2026, is said to be part of a much more comprehensive review of defense assets across northern Australia, including the Pine Gap spy facility.
Anti-nuclear campaigner Richard Tanter of the Nautilus Institute, who spoke to Four Corners, said, “it’s a sign to the Chinese that we’re willing to be the spearhead.”
However, strategic analyst Rod Lyon, on the other hand, argued that six B-52s stationed at Tindal on a rotational basis during the dry season do not make Australia “the tip of the spear” in a US battle with China .
Agreements for “enhanced aviation cooperation” and “rotational deployment of US aircraft of all types to Australia” were made at the biennial Australia-United States Ministerial Talks (AUSMIN) in 2021. However, the B-52s were not explicitly addressed.
Given the growing possibility of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, Dr Malcolm Davies, a senior analyst at Australia’s Strategic Policy Institute, said it was a “sensible move”.
Dr Davies said Australia must take a leading role in strengthening the US extended nuclear deterrent in new ways, by strengthening the integrated deterrence in the Indo-Pacific and working with the US to prevent China from using force to resolve territorial disputes. differences.
He went on to say that Australia’s commitment to the US-Australia strategic partnership, which is so important to its defense and national security, is demonstrated by hosting B-52s.
Following Chinese President Xi’s historic third-term victory and control of the extremely powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, concerns about China’s aggressive stance in the region have grown significantly.
Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China’s attitude toward Taiwan has become more hostile, and Chinese warships and aircraft are now more visible in the area around the island nation.