PHOTOS: B-1 Bombers Deploy to the Pacific as China Drills Around Taiwan

B-1 Lancer bombers are on a bomber task force mission to Guam amid high tensions in the region, Pacific Air Forces announced on May 23.

There has been heavy military activity in the Pacific following the May 20 inauguration of Taiwanese president Lai Ching-te, who favors the island’s independence from Beijing. China carried out military drills in response.

Bomber task force missions are planned months in advance, so the deployment does not indicate a direct U.S. show of force aimed at China. The Air Force said the mission is “routine,” a term commonly used to describe the BTFs, and did not provide details of what the B-1s planned to do during their deployment.

The B-1s are from Air Force Global Strike Command’s 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., and are operating out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, as the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron. It is the second bomber task force mission to the Pacific this month, following a B-52 BTF just a few weeks ago. It is also the second bomber task force currently underway. Two B-52s from a four-aircraft BTF operating out of RAF Fairford, U.K., flew a mission to practice coordination with the Swedish Navy on May 24.

“Members from the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron will integrate and train with Allies, partners, and the Joint Force to enhance readiness and reinforce the rules-based international order in the Pacific,” Pacific Air Forces said in its release, which did not say how many B-1s are part of the BTF.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Colter Taylor, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, performs routine maintenance on a B-1B Lancer after its arrival at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in support of a bomber task force mission May 21, 2024. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jake Jacobsen

China’s People’s Liberation Army has staged extensive military drills to protest Lai’s inauguration and practice an encirclement of Taiwan. On May 24, the PLA said the exercise was designed to practice the ability of China to “seize power” over the island.

“The Department remains confident in current U.S. force posture and operations in the Indo-Pacific region with our allies and partners to safeguard peace, stability, and our national security,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder said in a May 25 statement. “We have closely monitored joint military drills by the People’s Liberation Army in the Taiwan Strait and around Taiwan. We have communicated our concerns both publicly and directly.”

Between 6 a.m. local time on May 23 and 6 a.m. on May 25, 49 PLA aircraft, 19 PLA Navy ships, and seven Chinese Coast Guard vessels came close to Taiwanese territory, and 35 aircraft crossed the median line of Taiwan Strait, a de facto but informal border, the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense said. Beijing considers the self-governing democratic Taiwan to be a breakaway province and has pledged its eventual unification with the mainland.

“As we can see we have set two exercise areas in the sea and airspace near the eastern part of the island, mainly to block the escape of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists and break through their comfort zone,” a PLA officer said of the exercise, dubbed Joint Sword 2024, according to the BBC.

The Air Force release said that the B-1s “integrated with the U.S. Navy” prior to arriving in Guam, though it did not provide further details.

“When the 37th trains alongside allies and partners, we gain the opportunity to strengthen our bomber deterrence capabilities and demonstrate interoperability to collectively bolster our ability to support a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Lt. Col. Christian Hoover, the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron commander.