The “Bone” is back on the island of Guam and it brought with it the ability to deliver up to two dozen stealthy AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSMs)—the conventionally-armed bomber’s weapon of choice during the opening stages of a major conflict—to America’s warfighting capabilities in the Pacific. It’s now abundantly clear that the Pentagon wants to make sure that friend and foe alike are aware of that fact based on the pictures the service just posted.
The photos show one of the B-1Bs currently calling Guam home having one of its three cavernous weapons bays stuffed with live JASSMs. The images showcase the fact that the B-1B can put even a peer state’s most defended targets at risk from a standoff distance. The JASSM has a declared range of around 230 miles, while its enhanced successor, the JASSM-ER, can reach out and touch targets nearly 600 miles from its point of launch. The B-1B itself has an intercontinental range.
All told, it’s a potent message to send and one that is fairly certain to get its intended recipient’s attention.
We were the first to report last month on the Air Force’s abrupt ending of its continuous bomber presence at Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam after a decade and a half. In that time, there were always a number of bombers assigned to the island outpost. We were also first to report on what would become a flurry of B-1B activity throughout the Pacific, with the swing-wing bombers flying roundtrip missions from the continental U.S. to as far as the South China Sea and back over the last few of weeks. Now, even though B-1Bs are back at Andersen Air Force Base, just how long the bombers will stick around there is anyone’s guess.
What underpins this new strategy is a Pentagon’s buzzword called ‘dynamic force employment.’ Basically, it entails going from being fairly predictable with the movements of strategic assets to being far less predictable in those deployments, albeit at the cost of persistence in a particular area of operations.
The grim reality is that all of America’s runway-dependent airpower positioned from Guam west would have a huge target on it during the opening shots of a conflict with China. While Guam has a THAAD battery for ballistic missile defense, China would overwhelm any defenses with a massive barrage of ballistic missiles in an attempt to destroy any airpower there or at least neuter its effectiveness via denying it access to the runways and other support infrastructure it relies on.