Defense Media Network

Newest Defense Media Network Promotion

Continuous Bomber Presence Keeps the B-52 Visible in the Western Pacific

Continuous Bomber Presence, or CBP, is the Pentagon’s term for an ongoing show of force by nuclear capable B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit bombers that has been underway on Guam since 2004. By rotating half a dozen aircraft and 300 airmen through Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base every few months, the Air Force is keeping up constant forward visibility that highlights the U.S. commitment to Asia and the Western Pacific.

B-52 Stratofortress

A B-52 Stratofortress conducts a training flight over the Republic of Korea, March 19, 2013. As part of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence, the crew practiced dropping bombs on targets at Pilsung Range. The mission highlighted the extended deterrence and conventional capabilities of the B-52, and reinforced the U.S. commitment to the security of our allies and partners. Training opportunities such as CBP remain important to ensure U.S. and ROK forces are battle-ready and trained to employ airpower to deter aggression, defend the ROK, and defeat any attack against the alliance. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Emerson Nunez

Essential to bombing campaigns in World War II and Vietnam, Andersen dropped out of the headlines until this new century, when leaders in Washington recognized the value of a sovereign base in a strategic location. Now, Andersen is again central to U.S. planning, and the B-52 the instrument of those plans.

During their temporary stay on Guam, the bombers fly long-duration sorties over vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean, take advantage of training ranges in Australia and off Hawaii, and train with sister services and allies. They also draw the notice of China and North Korea. B-52 participation in a recent exercise was “unpardonable,” said North Korea’s news agency.

In March, reacting to North Korean rhetoric, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Guam has been used since 2004 for strategic bomber rotational deployments. “The B-52 Stratofortress can perform a variety of missions, including carrying precision-guided conventional or nuclear ordnance,” Little told reporters. “We will continue to fly these training missions as part of our ongoing actions to enhance our strategic posture in the Asia-Pacific region.”

 

Evolving Presence

When CPB began nine years ago, B-52, B-1B Lancer, and B-2 Spirit squadrons shared the deployments. Today, Air Force inventory includes 74 B-52s, 66 B-1Bs and 20 B-2s. The B-1B, the only member of the trio not to have a nuclear mission, became heavily tasked in Iraq and Afghanistan and was taken out of the rotation. The small size of the B-2 fleet — and, perhaps, the Feb. 23, 2008 crash on Guam of aircraft 89-0127, Spirit of Kansas, caused by a sensor failure — led to a decision to remove the B-2 at least temporarily from the Guam deployments. Now, the B-52 handles the Guam CBP commitment by itself.

The age of the B-52, ironically, is less a problem than the geriatric condition of the other bomber platforms. Perhaps surprising to some, withdrawing the B-2 from the CBP mission, at least temporarily, was done in part because the B-2 is so old. It rolled out of factory doors with an on-board computer based on the IBM 286. “It’s very hard to convince people that the B-2 is not a new airplane,” Maj. Gen. William A. Chambers of the Air Staff said in a speech last November. “The B-2 is packed with 1980s-era network gear and software and needs a new ‘digital backbone.'”

The Stratofortress, also called the BUF for “bug ugly fellow” — or perhaps a different f-word — has two homes when not deployed: Barksdale Air Force Base, La. and Minot Air Force Base, N.D. The bases take responsibility for the Guam commitment during alternating years. Each has two squadrons, with one replacing the other after six months.

B-52 Stratofortress

A B-52 Stratofortress of the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., releases M117 air-dropped general purpose conventional bombs onto a training range north of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, March 16, 2011. The mission also included in-flight refueling, tactical maneuvers, and radar scenarios to test all aspects of the B-52’s capabilities. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Carlin Leslie

The Continuous Bomber Presence is “the sort of thing that makes the United States a world power,” said Capt. Bandy “Spike” Jeffrey, a radar navigator with the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, “The Devil’s Own,” deployed to Guam from Barksdale. “We are exercising the U.S. presence out here.”

It may seem a no-brainer to continue to keep bombers on duty in a region that’s been called a potential powder keg. But a “perfect storm” of confluences could threaten the CBP. The debt crisis in Washington, the aging and shrinking of the nation’s bomber fleet, and the challenges of upgrading the nation’s bombers are all factors.

In the face of a mandated 18 percent cut in the Air Force’s budget for fiscal year 2013, which ends September 30, the service grounded 17 squadrons and reduced operational flying hours by 203,000. Lost flight hours, Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh told the Senate on February 12, “will come from combatant commander requirements such as … Continuous Bomber Presence missions in the Pacific.”

The age of the B-52, ironically, is less a problem than the geriatric condition of the other bomber platforms. Perhaps surprising to some, withdrawing the B-2 from the CBP mission, at least temporarily, was done in part because the B-2 is so old. It rolled out of factory doors with an on-board computer based on the IBM 286. “It’s very hard to convince people that the B-2 is not a new airplane,” Maj. Gen. William A. Chambers of the Air Staff said in a speech last November. “The B-2 is packed with 1980s-era network gear and software and needs a new ‘digital backbone.'”

The B-2 has received new, state-of-the-art radar but otherwise is in need of instrument, avionics and sensor upgrades for which no funding is in sight. The third member of the nation’s bomber trio, the B-1B, has received more internal improvements than the others and has proven itself repeatedly as a conventional bomber and close air support platform, but the B-1B continues to be prohibitively costly to fly. The B-52 is in the best shape of the three bombers in terms of improvements under the skin, as well as incorporation of an advanced targeting pod and a diverse range of new ordnance items. The last Air Force chiefs of staff have all given high priority to designing and developing a new bomber, but funding remains elusive.

 

The Future of Continuous Bomber Presence

Air Force officials say they’re certain the Continuous Bomber Presence will be maintained through the current fiscal year, which ends September 30. A fresh B-52 squadron is expected to replace the 96th on Guam in the coming months. It’s widely expected that when the new fiscal year arrives, the Pentagon will find a way to continue, but possibly at some reduced level. The sight of a B-52 operating in Western Pacific skies is so important to U.S. interests that the Air Force plans to find savings elsewhere before it seriously ponders ending the bomber deployments to Andersen.

By

Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...