- US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Danielle Quilla
- The US Air Force recently completed a first-of-its-kind training exercise involving B-2 Spirit nuclear-capable bombers and F-22 Raptor fighter jets, two of the stealthiest aircraft in the world.
- B-2s had never operated out of Pearl Harbor before, but within weeks they found themselves taking off from tiny atolls and practicing new tactics for war in the Pacific.
- The training comes as China increasingly uses its military to try to back the US out of the South China Sea and as military relations disintegrate.
- The US Air Force clearly intended to show China it wouldn’t back down on its forays into the South China Sea, which the US and allies see as international waters.
The US Air Force recently completed a first-of-its-kind training exercise involving the stealthiest aircraft in the world in a massive show of force meant to demonstrate the US’s commitment to bucking down a rising China in the Pacific.
B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri took the long flight out to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii for the first time starting in September.
And while the B-2s familiarized themselves with their new home, they took off for training missions with ultra-stealth F-22 Raptor fighter jets from the Hawaii Air National Guard.
- Shayanne Gal/Samantha Lee/Business Insider
“The B-2 Spirits’ first deployment to [Pearl Harbor] highlights its strategic flexibility to project power from anywhere in the world,” Maj. Gen. Stephen Williams, the US Air Force’s director of air and cyberspace operations in the Pacific, said in a statement.
“The B-2s conducted routine air operations and integrated capabilities with key regional partners, which helped ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Williams said. “The US routinely and visibly demonstrates commitment to our allies and partners through global employment and integration of our military forces.”
The US recently started calling the Pacific the “Indo-Pacific” in what was widely seen as a slight against China. Addressing “free and open” travel there seems to needle Beijing over its ambitions to determine who can sail or fly in what Washington and allies see as the international waters of the South China Sea.
But beyond the rhetorical messages, flying B-2s and F-22s together sends a clear military message: You can’t hit what you can’t see.
The US doesn’t have any bigger guns – this is the real deal
Despite the B-2’s massive size, its stealth design and lack of vertical stabilizers make it almost invisible to radars. The F-22 also benefits from all-aspect stealth and a marble-sized footprint on radar screens.
Together, the nuclear-capable B-2 and the world-beating F-22 fighter jet represent a force that could go anywhere in the world, beat any defenses, drop nuclear or conventional heavy payloads, and get out of harm’s way.
China has sought to defend the South China Sea with surface-to-air missiles and large radar installations, but the B-2 and F-22 have specific tactics and features designed to defeat those.
Additionally, the Air Force tweaked the old tactics used by the Cold-War era stealth airframes to show a new look entirely.
Instead of simply taking off and landing from Pearl Harbor, a known base and likely target for Chinese missiles in the opening salvo of a conflict, a B-2 trained on something called “hot reloading” from a smaller base on a coral limestone atoll in the mid-Pacific called Wake Island.
There, specialists refueled the B-2 and reloaded its bomb bays while the engines still ran, enabling a lightning-quick turnaround thousands of miles out from Pearl Harbor and into the Pacific.
“We flew to a forward operating location that the B-2 had never operated out of and overcame numerous challenges,” Lt. Col. Nicholas Adcock, the commander of the Air Force Global Strike 393rd Bomber Squadron, said in the statement.
While Beijing increasingly takes a militaristic line toward Washington, which is trying to preserve freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the US Air Force made the purpose of its new training explicit: to “to ensure free, open Indo-Pacific” with stealth nuclear bombers and fighter jets purpose-built to counter Beijing’s South China Sea fortress.