(CNN) — The US Air Force has deployed six nuclear-capable B-52 Stratofortress bombers to Guam, according to US Pacific Air Forces, adding more firepower to the region just hours after North Korean state media mocked President Donald Trump’s tweet referencing the size of his nuclear button as the “spasm of a lunatic.”
B-52 bombers provide additional nuclear and conventional mission capability to a subtly growing American military presence in the region amid ongoing talks between North and South Korea.
Officially, the deployment is part of the US military’s effort to maintain a “continuous bomber presence” in the Pacific, but the timing coincides with ongoing talks between North and South Korea ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics.
The talks mark the most significant thaw in relations between the neighboring states in years, and the US remains cautiously optimistic that the dialogue could eventually provide fertile ground for diplomacy.
Washington and Seoul opted to postpone their annual military exercises until after the Olympics, but the Air Force said it will maintain “routine” fire power in the region even as talks are ongoing.
“This forward deployed presence demonstrates the US continued commitment to allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region,” the Air Force said in a statement.
Ongoing discussions between North and South Korea has not prevented Pyongyang from openly criticizing the US and President Donald Trump in recent days.
North Korean state media mocked Trump this week, calling his tweet about having a bigger nuclear button that Kim Jong Un the “spasm of a lunatic.”
Kim will likely also take issue with the US deployment of additional nuclear-capable bombers to Guam — a territory he has often threatened to target with a missile should the US provoke him.
But despite the recent cooling of tensions that has prompted talks between North and South Korea ahead of the Olympics, officials remain aware that Kim Jong Un still refuses to put his nuclear program on the table and understand that previous rounds of diplomacy have failed to bring about either denuclearization or a permanent peace treaty to formally end the Korean War (hostilities ended with a truce in 1953).
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and allies said Tuesday that the world community must continue to pressure North Korea to change its behavior, warning against complacency amid talks.
As Tillerson continues to push for a diplomatic solution, the US military officials is preparing for any conflict scenario by conducting mock missions and training exercises.
The B-52s and 300 airmen from Barksdale Air Force Base will replace the B-1 bombers currently stationed in Guam and join three B-2 stealth bombers that arrived at Andersen Air Force Base earlier this month.
While the B-1 Lancers are scheduled to return to their home base at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota at the end of the month, the Air Force said that the three types of US bombers will overlap in Guam for a few days.
The highly versatile, supersonic B-1 is considered the backbone of the US long-range bomber fleet and carries the largest conventional payload of any aircraft in the US Air Force.
But while it packs a punch, the B-1 remains disarmed of nuclear weapons — unlike the B-52 and B-2.
Defense Secretary James Mattis and other Pentagon officials have long warned that a military conflict with North Korea would yield devastating consequences and any strike option should only be considered once diplomacy is no longer possible.
Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico wrote a letter to Mattis last week to express concerns that the administration was considering a “bloody nose” strategy against North Korea in which the US would launch a preemptive military target strike.
Heinrich wrote: “In our eyes, a limited strike against even a single, military site could easily be perceived by North Korea as the opening salvo and a declaration of war. Even putting aside the myriad targeting challenges presented by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, we have no way of predicting the exact form of North Korean retaliation.”
But should the situation arise where the US must wage a military campaign on the Korean Peninsula, analysts have told CNN that B-2 and B-52 bombers launched from Guam — referred to as the “tip of the spear” — would likely be part of any first strike.
The B-2 is considered the Air Force’s heavy-penetration bomber and features low observable stealth technology designed to evade anti-aircraft defenses.
A long-range heavy bomber, the B-52 can perform a variety of missions but is a significantly older aircraft than the B-2.
It is capable of flying at subsonic speeds and can carry nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnance.
The Air Force said the B-52’s will provide “regional allies and partners with a credible, strategic power projection platform.”
Additional bombers are not the only pieces of US military hardware to arrive in the Pacific in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, the military boosted its stealth attack options in the Pacific when the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp moved into the 7th Fleet area of operations.
The 40,00-ton, 844-foot-long Wasp is essentially a baby aircraft carrier. Built in 1980s, it has been upgraded to deploy new Marine Corps F-35B stealth fighter jets.
The fifth-generation fighter jets are seen as a major advantage for the United States in any contingencies involving North Korea as they are undetectable by Pyongyang’s radars.
The Wasp will be based in Sasebo, Japan, and become the flagship of the US Navy’s Upgunned Expeditionary Strike Group in the Pacific, the service said. It replaces the USS Bonhomme Richard, which has not been upgraded to handle the F-35s.
Meanwhile, more than 6,000 sailors assigned to the Carl Vinson Strike Group left San Diego earlier this month for a regularly scheduled deployment to the Western Pacific, according to the US Navy.
Led by the 97,000-ton aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, the strike group includes a guided-missile cruiser and two destroyers in addition to the accompanying air wing.
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