NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
The Pentagon is planning to send B-52 bombers to Australia as part of a strategy of building up forces in the region and working with regional allies to confront China.
The plan calls for deploying up to six nuclear-capable B-52s to Australia’s Tindal air base south of Darwin in the northern part of the country, according to news reports from Australia confirmed by U.S. defense officials.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters it is common for the military to send aircraft to Australia for joint exercises.
“I think that it does send a clear signal to countries in the region, first of all, that the U.S. is a reliable partner and that we do maintain capabilities to be available to respond to a variety of contingencies worldwide,” Gen. Ryder said. “But it also sends a clear message that we do have the capability to deter, and if necessary, engage.”
The dispatch of B-52s sends a significant strategic message to Beijing by the Biden administration.
The B-52 bomber is capable of carrying large numbers of bombs and missiles, including conventional precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions as well as Tomahawk and other cruise missiles. Plans call for equipping B-52s with the new Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic missile, and the future Long Range Stand Off nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile.
Army Lt. Col. Marty Meiners, a Pentagon spokesman, did not directly address the bomber deployment plans, but said the U.S.-Australia alliance is a cornerstone of U.S. foreign and security policy. During defense talks in 2021, the two nations agreed to bolster air cooperation through rotational deployment of all types of U.S. aircraft to Australia along with training and exercises, he said.
“A wide range of U.S. military aircraft, including B-52s and other bombers, have visited Australia to participate in joint exercises for years, and will continue to do so,” he said.
The Pentagon is also funding infrastructure projects at Tindal that “demonstrate U.S. investment in and commitment to Australia, and supports the rotational presence of a range of U..S aircraft in the Northern Territory, which is a longstanding feature of United States force posture cooperation with Australia,” Col. Meiners said.
The six B-52s set for deployment to Australia are “aimed squarely at China,” the Australian Broadcasting Corp. program Four Corners said in a report Monday. The report quoted U.S. documents on the plans for expanding the air base to accommodate the bombers. The facility at the air base will include a squadron operations facility, a maintenance center, and a parking area for six B-52s.
“The ability to deploy U.S. Air Force bombers to Australia sends a strong message to adversaries about our ability to project lethal air power,” the Air Force was quoted as telling ABC.
The long-range B-52s are among the most visible elements of a regional military buildup by the United States in response to increasingly aggressive Chinese military activities in the South China Sea, Taiwan Strait and East China Sea. Australia is also expanding its intelligence facility at Pine Gap that will provide intelligence on Chinese military activities and would play a major supporting role in any regional conflict involving China.
The planned bomber deployment will be a new element of U.S. military support in northern Australia.
Thousands of U.S. Marines have regularly deployed to Darwin on temporary rotations.
The United States and Britain are also helping Australia develop nuclear-powered attack submarines as part of a new trilateral grouping called AUKUS.
In November 2021, Australia’s defense minister, Peter Dutton, said Australia would join the United States in defending Taiwan from a Chinese attack.
The Australian government two years ago made a major shift in policy toward Beijing after China sought to punish Australia for calling for an international investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 virus.
China‘s Communist government denounced the planned bomber deployment, saying it would exacerbate regional tensions and Cold War-style policies.
“The relevant practices of the U.S. side have increased tensions in the region, seriously undermined regional peace and stability, and may trigger an arms race in the region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing. “China urges the parties concerned to abandon the old Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow geopolitical concepts, and do more to contribute to regional peace and stability and to enhance mutual trust.”
Missile defense review sees expanding threats
The Pentagon‘s major new review of missile defense systems is warning that the threat posed by foreign missiles is rapidly expanding in quantity, diversity and sophistication, with the addition of ultra-high-speed hypersonic missiles capable of evading current missile defenses.
“U.S. national security interests are increasingly at risk from wide-ranging missile arsenals that include offensive ballistic, cruise and hypersonic weapons, as well as lower-tier threats such as uncrewed aircraft systems,” the missile defense review states.
The review was made public as part of the Pentagon‘s new national defense strategy last week.
Strategic deterrence remains the main element in countering large nuclear missile threats from China and Russia, the review states.
As North Korea’s nuclear missile arsenal grows, the Pentagon will continue to use a “comprehensive missile defeat” system, backed by threats of direct nuclear and non-nuclear attacks, the review says.
To support allies, the Pentagon plans to join allies and partners in deploying integrated air and missile defense systems as a priority.
China‘s missile forces have “dramatically advanced” in the past 20 years with new conventional and nuclear ballistic and hypersonic missiles, while deploying sophisticated space-based systems to improve the accuracy of its missiles, while Russia has used thousands of air, land and sea-launched cruise and ballistic missiles, including hypersonic missiles, against Ukraine, the review said.
Battlefield losses in Ukraine could reduce Moscow’s modernized weapons arsenal.
North Korea has several new ICBMs that could reach the United States with nuclear warheads, the review said.
Missile defense is described in the review as one element of an integrated, multilayered framework to defend the homeland and deter attacks on the United States.
The Pentagon has deployed long-range interceptors in Alaska and California capable of hitting a few North Korean missiles. Regional anti-missile systems include Aegis missile defense ships, THAAD and Patriot ground-based systems.
Lagging behind both China and Russia in hypersonic weapons technology, the Pentagon is continuing to develop active and passive defenses against hypersonic missiles, the report said. New sensors, interceptors and command and control systems for missile defense are also a priority.
To meet growing missile threats, U.S. integrated air and missile defenses “must be comprehensive, layers, mobile and ready to degrade, disrupt and defeat adversary missiles at every opportunity and in all phases of flight, and include evolving warfighting concepts that emphasize dispersal and maneuver,” the review said.
Report links China to transnational crime
China is a major source and transit point for illicit drug trafficking, with a domestic industry estimated to be worth $82 billion, according to a report by Global Financial Integrity, a Washington think tank.
“The country has grown into a principal supplier of fentanyl and its analogues as well as precursor chemicals for the production of a variety of drugs, including methamphetamine,” the report states. “China‘s large, developed chemical and pharmaceutical industries, as well as boutique suppliers, present major vulnerabilities for the country, which are compounded into weaknesses as there is anemic regulation and oversight.”
Coastal cities and a vast network of international airports have made China an ideal destination and transit point for the illegal drug trade. In addition to exporting fentanyl, China is also seeing an increase in domestic consumption of illicit substances, especially heroin, methamphetamine and ketamine.
The report also reveals China‘s role in human trafficking, counterfeiting and intellectual property theft, wildlife trafficking and illicit financial activities.
“China plays an outsized role in transnational crime mirroring its growth as an international superpower,” the report said.
“Politically, by far one of the clearest drivers of transnational crime in China is state-sponsored forced labor,” the report said. “Beijing has sanctioned the use of forced labor as a tool in the punishment and/or rehabilitation of citizens seen as being recalcitrant such as drug addicts, extremists, political activists, religious offenders and minor criminals.”
China‘s government has shown a lack of political will in countering transnational crime within its borders, despite its authoritarian system of control.
Vanda Felbab-Brown, a Brookings Institution expert on China‘s fentanyl exports, told the report’s authors that China‘s typical pattern is to deny at first that a problem exists.
“Under international or strong domestic pressure, it eventually moves to tighten regulation,” she said.
“But its enforcement tends to be limited and subverted by powerful vested interests of industry representatives, officials of line ministries charged with regulating or promoting the industry, and government officials,” Ms. Felbab-Brown said. “Geostrategic interests also trump other considerations, such as enforcement of regulatory compliance.”
Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.