Saturday, May 23, 2015

Australia could host B-1 bombers

Australia is reportedly in talks with the US over hosting B-1 bombers in the Northern Territory.
B-1 Bombers are on their way to Australia.
    Australia considering hosting US Air Force airplanes, military analyst says
by John Kerin and Lisa Murray

A top military analyst believes Australia and the US may be holding discussions about hosting the supersonic B1 bomber in northern Australia, where it could threaten Chinese ships menacing US allies in the South China Sea.

The Pentagon on Friday was forced to contradict one of its own top officials who said the US would be "placing additional Air Force assets in Australia … including B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft".

Australia and the United States have been talking about expanding aircraft and ship visits to Australia as part of efforts to strengthen the alliance that includes extra marines in the Northern Territory.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute defence analyst and Defence white paper consultant Dr Andrew Davies said it was "well known Australia and the US were discussing such issues".

"This may have been a case of an official getting out ahead of the negotiations ... it is not inconceivable that discussions over expanding links to include regular visits by B1 bombers have taken place," he said.

Dr Davies said he attended a defence conference where a senior Royal Australian Air Force officer said airbase runways in Northern Australia would need to be modified to accommodate larger US aircraft.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was unaware of any US plan to base B1 bombers in Australia and the Obama administration had told him the US defence official had "mis-spoken".

He said he saw the US-Australia alliance as an overwhelming "force for stability" in the region.

"Our alliance is not aimed at anyone," he said on Friday. "It's an alliance for stability, for peace, for progress, for justice and it's going to be a cornerstone of the stability of our region for many decades to come."

Assistant US defence secretary David Shear outlined the plan to a Congressional hearing in Washington on Friday, suggesting the move would act as a deterrent to "China's destabilising effect" on the region.

He told a special Congressional hearing on the South China Sea that the basing of aircraft in Australia was in addition to the doubling of US marines bound for Darwin from their current base in Japan.

"So we will have a very strong presence, very strong continued posture throughout the region to back our commitments to our allies," Mr Shear said.

Later the US embassy in Canberra said on Twitter: "Contrary to reports, and to correct the record, the US has NO plans to rotate B-1 bombers or surveillance aircraft in Australia."

The B1 Bomber is the backbone of the US Airforce long-range strategic bomber fleet. It can deliver 84 500 pound (227 kilogram) bombs against adversaries and is now deployed in the US campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee called on the hearing to respond to concerns about China's construction of artificial land masses, including runways, in the South China Sea.

The retreat comes just days after a US navy combat ship completed its first ever patrol of waters near the hotly contested Spratly islands and indicated plans to beef up surveillance of Chinese construction projects in the area.

Angry response from China

Washington's moves prompted an angry response from China, which urged the US to clarify its position.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press conference in Beijing that the country was "extremely concerned".

"We think the United States has to issue a clarification about this," Ms Hua said. "China has always upheld freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, but freedom of navigation does not mean that foreign military ships and aircraft can enter another country's territorial waters or airspace at will."

The USS Fort Worth Littoral Combat ship was closely monitored by People's Liberation Army warships, according to an article published on the American Navy's website. Reports in the Chinese media said the warships monitored Fort Worth's patrol closely and followed the ship until it left the area.

Defence analyst Rory Medcalf said the US decision to indicate greater surveillance of disputed territory in the South China Sea showed it had run out of "risk-free" options. There is increasing evidence China has ramped up its construction activities across the Spratly archipelago over the past year, creating islands and building ports, fuel storage depots, accommodation and possibly two airstrips.

The extreme scenario is that China is building a series of island fortresses across six reefs, enabling it to refuel warplanes and support a large number of troops.

More likely in the short-term is that the islands will be used as posts for intelligence gathering and supporting maritime activities and housing a limited number of military personnel.

US secretary of state John Kerry will meet Chinese political leaders, including President Xi Jinping, this weekend in Beijing.

The Defence Department spokesperson insisted that military cooperation between Australia and the United States is "not directed at any one country."

However the spokesperson did not dispute the report that the US plans to deploy B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft to Australia and declined to answer specific questions about any such deployments.

"The specifics of the future force posture cooperation are yet to be finalised," the spokesperson said. "Details are subject to continuing discussions between Australia and the United States. A range of different US aircraft already visits Australia for exercises and training. Increased cooperation will build on these activities."

Primary Function:Long-range, multi-role, heavy bomber
Builder: Rockwell International, North American Aircraft
Operations Air Frame and Integration:Offensive avionics, Boeing Military Airplane; defensive avionics, AIL Division
Power Plant:Four General Electric F-101-GE-102 turbofan engine with afterburner
Thrust:30,000-plus pounds (13,500-plus kilograms) with afterburner, per engine
Length:146 feet (44.5 meters)
Wingspan:137 feet (41.8 meters) extended forward,
79 feet (24.1 meters) swept aft
Height:34 feet (10.4 meters)
Weight:Empty, approximately 190,000 pounds (86,183 kilograms)
Maximum Takeoff Weight:477,000 pounds (214,650 kilograms)
Speed: 600+ mph (Mach .92) @ 500 feet
825 mph (Mach 1.25) @ 50,000 feet
Rotate and Takeoff Speeds:210 Gross - 119 Rotate kts / 134 kts Takeoff
390 Gross - 168 kts Rotate / 183 kts Takeoff
Landing Speeds: 210 Gross - 145 kts
380 Gross - 195 kts
Range:7,455 miles, unrefueled
3,444 miles with normal weapons load
Ceiling:60,000 feet (18,000 meters)
Crew:Four (aircraft commander, pilot, offensive systems officer and defensive systems officer)
84 Mk 62
84 MK82
30 CBU 87
30 CBU 89
30 CBU 97
12 Mk 65
12 GBU-27
12 AGM-154 JSOW
Date Deployed:June 1985
Unit Cost:$200-plus million per aircraft
Inventory:100 total production
92 total current inventory
Active force, 51 PMAI (68 actual)
ANG, 18 PMAI (22 actual)
Reserve, 0
AFMC, 2 (Test) 

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