Putting B-52s in northern Australia is a warning to China, as fears grow Beijing is preparing for an assault on Taiwan.
The US is planning to build a squadron operations facility, an apron to park six B-52 bombers and a maintenance facility at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Tindal in Northern Australia, Alert 5 first noted.
The story has been confirmed by Australian officials.
ABC news of Australia disclosed that $14.4 million will be provided by Washington for the expansion.
Becca Wasser from the Centre for New American Security says putting B-52s in northern Australia is a warning to China, as fears grow Beijing is preparing for an assault on Taiwan.
“Having bombers that could range and potentially attack mainland China could be very important in sending a signal to China that any of its actions over Taiwan could also expand further,” she says.
“The ability to deploy US Air Force bombers to Australia sends a strong message to adversaries about our ability to project lethal air power,” the USAF told Four Corners.
In recent months, US war planners and analysts have brought forward estimates of when Beijing may look to take Taiwan.
“The time frame for an assault on Taiwan, I would put it at 2025 to 2027,” says defence academic Oriana Skylar Mastro from Stanford University.
She says there is a growing confidence within the People’s Liberation Army that it could successfully invade Taiwan.
“For 15 years I would ask the Chinese military if they could do this [invade Taiwan], and the answer was ‘no’. So the fact that for the first time at the end of 2020 they’re starting to say ‘yes’, I think that’s a significant message we should pay attention to,” she says.
These growing tensions with China have made northern Australia a crucial defence hub for the US, which has committed to spending more than $1 billion upgrading its military assets across the Top End.
The Tindal air base expansion includes a parking area that can accommodate six B-52 bombers and is forecast to cost up to $US100 million. The USAF says the parking area will be finished in late 2026.
“The RAAF’s ability to host USAF bombers, as well as train alongside them, demonstrates how integrated our two air forces are,” it says.
In April, the US Department of Defence budgeted $US14.4 million ($22.5 million) for the squadron operations and maintenance facilities at Tindal.
“The [squadron operations] facility is required to support strategic operations and to run multiple 15-day training exercises during the Northern Territory dry season for deployed B-52 squadrons,” the US documents say.
The US also plans to build its own jet fuel storage tanks and an ammunition bunker at the site.
“The north of Australia in the new geopolitical environment, has suddenly become strategically much more important, if not crucial to the US,” says Paul Dibb, a former senior official at the Department of Defence in Canberra.
A greater presence of US forces in Australia was hinted at during last year’s annual ministerial meetings, known as AUSMIN.
Under so-called “enhanced air co-operation” it was agreed there would be “rotational deployment of US aircraft of all types in Australia”.
Ashley Townshend from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says the B-52s at Tindal are just the start.
“We will see much greater numbers of US military personnel forward located in Australia. That will include personnel from all three services, navy, air force and army, as well as the marines in Darwin, which are likely to be expanded.”
For more than 60 years, B-52s have been the backbone of the strategic bomber force for the US. The B-52 is capable of dropping or launching the widest array of weapons in the US inventory. This includes gravity bombs, cluster bombs, precision guided missiles and joint direct attack munitions. Updated with modern technology, the B-52 is capable of delivering the full complement of joint developed weapons and will continue into the 21st century as an important element of our nation’s defenses. The USAF currently expects to operate B-52s through 2050.
Photo credit: Senior Airman Brittany Y. Auld / U.S. Air Force