January 12, 2016 – The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, by William Cole
Amid a North Korean nuclear test, Russian bombers flying near Guam, and China’s claims in the South China Sea, the Air Force is dispatching 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons to Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base in mid-January.
The temporary deployment follows the flight of two Russian strategic bombers in the vicinity of Guam on Nov. 25, and increasing probes -- usually with Cold War-era turboprop-powered Tu-95 “Bear” bombers -- off Guam, California and Alaska.
The fighter deployment to Guam is part of what’s known as a “theater security package” providing a deterrent “against threats to regional security and stability,” the Hawaii-based Pacific Air Forces said.
The deployments are “scheduled months in advance, and are not related to any specific situation in the region,” Master Sgt. Matthew McGovern, a spokesman for the command at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, said in an email.
“Theater security package deployments such as this one last as long as they are needed by U.S. Pacific Command, but generally last for three to four months,” McGovern said.
North Korea angered the United States by testing a nuclear device last week. In response a U.S. B-52 strategic bomber was sent from Guam on Saturday on a low-level pass in the vicinity of Osan, South Korea, with escort by South Korea F-15 and U.S. F-16 fighter aircraft, as a show of force.
“This was a demonstration of the ironclad U.S. commitment to our allies in South Korea, in Japan and to the defense of the American homeland,” said Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. head of U.S. Pacific Command.
The long-range B-52 is part of a continuous bomber presence in the Indo-Asia- Pacific, Pacific Command said.
Russia has sought to reassert its military presence on the world stage with involvement in Syria and Cold War-style bomber flights near Alaska, California and Guam. Pacific Air Forces said no Russian bombers have flown near Hawaii in the past year.
The Washington Free Beacon reported that the Nov. 25 Russian Bear bomber circumnavigation of Guam was the fourth such incident in three years. The aircraft transited international airspace and stayed out of U.S. airspace around the territory, Pacific Air Forces said.
Shared domains like international airspace “belong to no single nation,” McGovern said. The mantra is increasingly aimed at China as it attempts to keep the United States out of international waters and airspace in the South China Sea.
“The rights, freedoms and uses of sea, air, space and cyberspace guaranteed to all nations in international law are essential to prosperity, stability, and security throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific, and we encourage all nations to exercise within the parameters laid forth by those laws,” McGovern said.
On July 4 two Tu-95 Bear bombers were intercepted by American F-22 fighters in international airspace off the Aleutian Islands. A short time later F-15 fighters intercepted two Bear bombers off the Central Coast of California.
Russia stepped up its bomber patrols just under 10 years ago, with a Tu-95 in 2008 buzzing the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier battle group south of Japan at 2,000 feet.
More than 200 airmen with the 112th Fighter Squadron from the Toledo Air National Guard in Ohio are deploying in mid-January to Guam as the 112th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.
The 112th will assume the theater security mission from the 125th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which was operating out of Kadena Air Base in Japan. The 125th is scheduled to return to the Tulsa Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma, but 12 of the unit’s F-16 Fighting Falcons will move to Andersen for the 112th to operate, Pacific Air Forces said.
Since 2000 the United States has been building up military capability on Guam for power projection. Hawaii is 2,400 miles west of California, and Guam is 3,800 miles farther west of Hawaii and closer to Asia.
F-16 and F-22 fighters have previously deployed to Guam as part of the theater security program, Pacific Air Forces said. Bombers that deploy to Guam are part of the continuous bomber presence program and have included the B-52, B-1 and B-2.
The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.