Tag Archives: South China Sea

Two U.S. Air Force B-1 Bombers Fly 10-hour Mission From Guam To Operate With U.S. Navy Guided-Missile Destroyer In South China Sea

Air Force and Navy assets train in South China Sea.

On Jun. 8, two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancers assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, flew a 10-hour mission from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, through the South China Sea, and operated with the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett (DDG 104) “to increase interoperability by refining joint tactics, techniques and procedures while simultaneously strengthening their ability to seamlessly integrate their operations.”

The B-1B Lancers (“Bones” in accordance with the nickname used by their aircrews) have been supporting he U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission since Aug. 6, 2016, when the first B-1s, belonging to the 28th Bomb Wing from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, deployed to Guam, for the first time in a decade, to replace the B-52s.

The B-1B had been taken out from the Continuous Bomber Presence (CBP) rotation at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base because they can’t carry any kind of nuclear weapon: the Lancer deployment in the regions brings a conventional heavy bomber within striking distance of the Korean peninsula.

While deterring North Korea out of Guam, the B-1s have also been involved in several regional exercises. For instance, in November 2016, one Lancer carried out close air support training in the vicinity of Australia, a type of mission in which they cooperate with JTACs.

CAS are among the most frequent missions flown by the “Bones” against ISIS during their 6-month deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve last year: when they returned stateside in January 2016, the B-1s had flown 490 sorties dropping 3,800 munitions on 3,700 targets.

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U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth jets to fly out of northern Australia amid South China Sea tensions

Starting in 2017, Australia will host U.S. military aircraft, including F-22 Raptors, to maintain a “credible combat power” in the region and send a convincing message to potential aggressors.

The Royal Australian Air Force will start joint training with U.S. F-22 Raptor aircraft over Australian territory next year.

This is one of the effects of the agreement signed by Adm. Harry Harris, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Australian defense head Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin.

Speaking at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Harris said that the U.S. and Australia “are exploring greater integration of fifth generation fighter deployments to Australia and plan to see significant activities in 2017.”

The RAAF is acquiring knowledge on 5th gen. aircraft thanks to the involvement in the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II program, but the Joint Strike Fighter won’t enter active service with the Royal Australian Air Force until next decade: the first F-35A will arrive in Australia in 2018 and the first squadron, No 3 Squadron, will be operational in 2021.  All 72 aircraft are expected to be fully operational by 2023.

Since the F-22 is the only fifth generation fighter already in service in good numbers, the U.S. Air Force has a plan “to bring down some F-22s to work with Australia to demonstrate the airplane and some of the unique maintenance and other aspects of fifth generation airframes,” Harris said.

Although Raptors have already visited Australia in the past to attend airshows, the announced deployment of the world’s most advanced multi-role aircraft in the north of the country would also have a deterrence purpose: according to Harris, maintaining a “credible combat power” in the region will send a convincing message to potential aggressors.

Like China, whose island-building in the South China Sea poses a threat to the freedom of navigation and overflight.

The presence of F-22s in northern Australia follows similar deployments to Japan: the USAF has started rotating fighters to Pacific Command bases in March 2004 “to maintain a prudent deterrent against threats to regional security and stability” and in January 2016 a dozen Raptors were deployed to Yokota, near Tokyo, to “promote” stability following North Korea’s nuclear test.

The deployment of a handful of stealth jets some 2,000 nautical miles from the South China Sea is rather symbolic unless it is considered as the part of a wider military build-up around the troubled waters of the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater.

On Aug. 9, 2016 three B-2 Spirit bombers with the 509th Bomb Wing, have deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, in Guam, to conduct extended deterrence operations in the region. B-1B Lancers (“Bones” in accordance with the nickname used by their aircrews) have also been deployed to Guam to support the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission

U.S. Navy aircraft carriers regularly conduct dual carrier strike group operations in the Western Pacific and sometimes also in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Philippine Sea. Last June, two nuclear-powered flattops operated simultaneously in the area, working also alongside two U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress (bombers launched from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam in a maritime attack training sortie. In the same period, Washington also deployed to the Philippines the first temporary detachment of Navy EA-18G Growlers with the ability to perform both electronic escort missions on U.S. ships and spyplanes frequently shadowed by Chinese spyplanes or intelligence gathering ships and Electronic Attack missions against Chinese radars on the disputed islands.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

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VAW-112 Golden Hawks E-2Cs Return Home to NBVC Point Mugu after 7-month deployment

The “Golden Hawks” of VAW-112 returned to Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu following a seven month deployment to the Western Pacific and South China Sea.

On Aug. 9 four E-2C Hawkeye aircraft and their 19 aircrew members,belonging to the VAW-112 “Golden Hawks,” returned to NBVC Point Mugu on Aug. 9.

VAW-112 Golden Hawk 1

Launching from USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), the squadron flew 428 missions in support of Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea, the Foal Eagle, Balikatan and RIMPAC Exercises during which its Hawkeyes acted as airborne command and control platforms, positioning themselves between the ship and the other aircraft to relay communications, identify and track air traffic and surface traffic, coordinate air to air refueling, handle aircraft emergencies and provide information from the battlefield to warfare commanders through data-link and satellite radio communications.

Total flight hours for the deployment were 1,618.

VAW-112 Golden Hawk 2

Shorealone Films photographer Matt Hartman went to NBVC Point Mugu to meet the “Golden Hawks” as they were welcomed home by family, friends and co-workers.

VAW-112 Golden Hawk 3

VAW-112 Golden Hawk 4

VAW-112 Golden Hawk 5

All images: Matt Hartman

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Things heat up near South China Sea: two U.S. aircraft carriers, B-52s and EA-18G Growler detachment

The U.S. build-up in the disputed waters of South China Sea continues with bombers, carriers and Electronic Attack planes.

Some interesting photographs have been arriving from the troubled waters of Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

The most recent ones, released on Jun. 18, show the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) carrier strike groups (CSG 3 and CSG 5) crusing close each other during dual carrier flight operations in the Philippine Sea.

Such operations included air combat training, long-range strike training, air defense drills as well as sea surveillance.

The CSG 3, that started operations in the Western Pacific on Feb. 4, consists of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) and guided-missile destroyers of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 21, USS Stockdale (DDG 106), USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) and USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110), and the aircraft of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9.

CSG 5, begun its summer patrol of the Indo-Asia Pacific, on Jun. 4, and consists of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), guided-missile cruisers USS Shiloh (CG 67) and USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) and guided-missile destroyers from Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), USS McCampbell (DDG 85), USS Benfold (DDG 65); the aircraft of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan and routinely, patrols the Western Pacific.

According to the U.S. Navy, the CSGs (Carrier Strike Groups) began coordinated operations in international waters to demonstrate “the United States unique capability to operate multiple carrier strike groups in close proximity.”

U.S. Navy aircraft carriers regularly conduct dual carrier strike group operations in the Western Pacific and sometimes also in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Philippine Sea: this occurs when carriers deployed to the 7th Fleet area of operations from the U.S. West Coast are joined with the forward deployed carrier strike group from Japan. When it happens a force of 12,000 sailors, 140 aircraft, six combatants and two carriers operates in the same sea: an impressive “show of force.”

Two carriers in South China Sea

Previously, in Sept. 2012, USS George Washington (CVN 73) and USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) strike groups conducted combined operation in the South China Sea and East China Sea. In 2001, USS Constellation (CV 64) and Carl Vinson operated together in the South China Sea.

A few days before the two carriers started combined operations, a joint service bombing exercise at the targeting island Farallon de Medinilla, an uninhabited small island in the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean located 45 nautical miles north of Saipan, saw two U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers launched from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, fly over USS Spruance (DDG 111) in a maritime attack training sortie.

Along with the two carrier strike groups and the B-52 providing extended deterrence, Washington has also deployed to the Philippines the first temporary detachment of Navy EA-18G Growlers.

The electronic attack aircraft have arrived at Clark Air Base, on Jun. 15. Even though they are officially there to train with the local FA-50, the detachment, made of 4 aircraft and 120 personnel with the Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 138, “will support routine operations that enhance regional maritime domain awareness and assure access to the air and maritime domains in accordance with international law.”

Therefore, the strategical deployment brought not far from the disputed waters in the South China Sea some cutting-edge aircraft capable to perform electronic escort missions on both U.S. ships and spyplanes that are frequently shadowed by Chinese spyplanes or intelligence gathering ships. Furthermore, the Growlers could jam, if needed, the Chinese radars on the Spratly, Paracel, Pratas and the rest of the islands, including those that have been artificially created, decreasing Beijing ability to establish an ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) similar to that in the East China Sea and to support its warplanes in the area.

The presence of (some more…) EA-18Gs could theoretically limit the operations of the Chinese Air Force (PLAAF) and Navy (PLANAF) that, according to “Flashpoint China: Chinese air power and regional security” published by Harpia Publishing and written by Andreas Rupprecht, one of the most authoritative sources on Chinese Air Power, “are able to ensure virtually continuos, round-the-clock aerial coverage and combat air patrols over the area during a crisis or a conflict.”

In particular, the PLANAF is pretty active in the area with a regiment each of H-6 bombers and JH-7 fighter-bombers and no fewer than three regiments of J-11 interceptors covering the South China Sea . “The availability of long-range J-11s and aerial refueling assets implies that much of the SCS [South China Sea] is now de-facto Chinese airspace,” says Rupprecht.

It’s not a coincidence that a recent close encounter in the area involved few weeks ago two Chinese J-11 tactical aircraft that carried out an “unsafe” intercept of a U.S. EP-3E reconnaissance aircraft on a routine mission in international airspace over the South China Sea.

VAQ-138 Clark AFB refuel

The Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 138 is an expeditionary squadron based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, that has previously taken part in deployments across the region. The Growler detachment comes after a first temporary Air Contingent made of five A-10C Thunderbolt aircraft, three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and approximately 200 personnel deployed from multiple Pacific Air Forces units that took part in exercise Balikatan and completed their final mission on April 28, 2016.

Image credit: U.S. Navy

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The U.S. will base B-1 bombers and surveillance planes in Australia amid South China Sea tensions

Bombers and ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft head towards the Pacific.

It looks like the U.S. Air Force is planning to deploy some strategic bombers and surveillance aircraft in Australia to put some pressure on China amid South China Sea tensions.

The South China Sea is the subject of several territorial claims. China claims sovereignty on some island chains and  waters that are within the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam

This year, China has started building an airstrip on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea  waters claimed by the Philippines.

According to FP, the Defense Department’s Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs David Shear, during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 13, said that along with moving U.S. Marines and Army units around the region, the Pentagon will deploy air assets in Australia, “including B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft.”

The U.S. Air Force ISR aircraft, possibly unmanned Global Hawk drones, will monitor activities around the disputed islands, whereas the “Bone” heavy bombers will serve as a deterrent to challenge Beijing aggressive ownership claims.

U.S. strategic bombers have already been temporarily deployed to Australia, to take part in exercises with the Royal Australian Air Force, in 2012 and at the end of 2014 as a consequence of a joint Force Posture Initiative signed in 2011 to train together to face threats in the Pacific.

Actually, U.S. aircraft don’t really need to deploy to Australia to put pressure on China: Air Force Global Strike Command’s bombers, including B-52s and B-2s, routinely operate from Andersen Air Force Base, in Guam, strategically located 1,800 miles (about 2,900 km) to the east of China. And they can even launch round-trip strike missions from their bases located in the Continental U.S.

According to Xinhuanet, China cautioned the U.S. against taking any actions in the region, urging Washington “not to take any risks or make any provocations so as to maintain regional peace and stability.”

Image credit: Boeing