Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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US B-2, B-1B, B-52H Bombers Conduct Unusual Joint Patrol over South China Sea

Air power!

(Photo : USAF) A B-52H, B-1B and B-2 bomber stand ready at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam.

The United States has sent a powerful aerial patrol consisting of a B-52H Stratofortress, a B-1B Lancer supersonic bomber and B-2 Spirit stealth bomber on a joint mission over the South China Sea in a dramatic message targeting both China and North Korea.

The unusual patrol of all three of the U.S.' strategic bombers took off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. U.S. military sources refused to confirm if the bombers were armed.

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The U.S. Department of Defense said the patrol was the first coordinated operation in Asia under the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM). The Pentagon deployed the strategic bombers to conduct "Continuous Bomber Presence" patrols.

"These bomber deployments visibly demonstrate our readiness and commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region," said US Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, commander of the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), which is part of USPACOM.

"Bomber aircraft provide the USPACOM area of responsibility with an effective deterrent capability, ensuring the regional security and stability of the US and our allies and partners."

The B-52s have been stationed on Guam since 2006. An undetermined number of B-1Bs were deployed to Guam last Aug. 6 with a number of B-2s following on Aug. 9. The bombers are there to provide deterrence to maintain stability in the India-Asia-Pacific region in the face of China's militarization of the South China Sea and North Korea's string of missile tests.

Analysts believe the unusual joint mission of the three major bombers targets China and North Korea and can be seen as an armed protest to warn Beijing not to act irresponsibly in the South China Sea.

The newly arrived B-2s join the B-1B long-range strategic bombers and B-52H bombers currently based on the island, which has been transformed into the major staging base for the Air Force should a conflict against China arise over the South China Sea.

The arrival of the B-2s at Andersen Air Force Base was a surprise since the Pentagon previously announced B-1Bs were to be deployed to Guam to replace the B-52Hs currently patrolling Asian airspace. This is one of the very rare instances when all three U.S. strategic bombers have been based at one base at one time.

An undetermined number of B-1B Lancers of the U.S. Air Force have also arrived in Guam even as tensions at the South China Sea flared with news China is hardening its military aircraft hangars on the Spratly Island islets it seized from the Philippines against U.S. air attack.

As part of the Continuous Bomber Presence mission in the Pacific, the US has regularly kept bombers stationed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.  The U.S. has, however, replaced its old B-52 bombers with the newer B-1 and B-2 Spirit stealth bombers.

The planes were positioned in the Pacific by U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which commands fleets of bombers, many of which are nuclear-capable, to maintain stability and deter potential threats.

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