Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal has begin to receive upgrades in order to host a permeant presence of U.S. Air Force B-52H nuclear capable intercontinental range bombers. The facility has long been seen as a key potential centre of American power projection capabilities into East Asia, particularly as facilities nearer to targets in the region such as Okinawa and Guam have become increasingly vulnerable to Chinese and North Korean ballistic missiles – which include missiles carrying new hypersonic glide vehicles developed by both countries. Confirmation of B-52 deployments notable comes as the U.S. Air Force has confirmed that it will withdraw its permanently based F-15C/D fighter unit from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, one of its nearest facilities to Chinese territory, after almost 44 years. The facility’s extreme vulnerability is a widely speculated reason.
It was previously anticipated that Tindal would host next generation B-21 bombers, although with the aircraft facing repeated delays to the date of its first flight and not expected to enter service until well into the latter half of the decade, deployment of the B-52H provides a near term means of enhancing America’s nuclear assets pointed as its two longstanding adversaries in Northeast Asia. Bombers will also be in rage of targets across the Russian Far East, increasing pressure on the country’s defences at a time of peak tensions between Moscow and the Western world.
Built in the 1960s, the B-52s are the oldest combat jets still flying in any major air force in the world. Upgrades have ensured that the aircraft nevertheless retains some viability even against high level adversaries, as its primary role remains the delivery of beyond visual range missiles capable of engaging targets thousands of kilometres away at distances where the bomber is unlikely to be threatened. Although the B-52 is the oldest of three bomber classes currently in service, the newer B-1B and B-2 have both proven highly problematic in service and are set to be retired in the early 2030s. Both have suffered from very low availably rates and high maintenance requirements, and their high operational costs and low sortie rates make them far less favourable than the B-52 for the large majority of missions. Although the B-2’s stealth capabilities allow it to deploy gravity bombs rather than solely standoff weapons, which is particularly useful for penetrating fortified targets, its Cold War era stealth technologies are increasingly considered unviable against modern air defences while the drawbacks of its particularly extreme maintenance needs largely outweigh the benefits of its stealth features.
Both the B-1B and B-2 are expected to be replaced by the B-21, which is also set to form multiple new squadrons as the American bomber fleet expands. China has also invested in its own intercontinental range stealth bomber which is expected to be a peer level rival to the B-21 and could make its first flight within months of it – namely the H-20 which will make China only the third country after the U.S. and USSR to develop combat aircraft with such endurances.