In a provocative move experts say is aimed squarely at China, the United States is preparing to deploy nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to Australia which might dissuade Beijing from invading Taiwan but, at the same time, is increasing the chance of Australia being drawn into a conflict.
The plan that the US military has devised amid Washington’s standoff with Beijing envisages turning Australia’s Northern Territory into a crucial military hub and employing up to six nuclear-capable B-52 strategic bombers on long-term rotational missions.
The US Air Force reportedly said that the ability to deploy US Air Force bombers to Australia sends a strong message to adversaries about the ability of the US to project lethal air power.
According to ABC’s Four Corners investigative program, the squadron operations facility that the Pentagon reportedly seeks to build at the Royal Australian Air Force military air base Tindal, near Darwin, would include a maintenance center and enough parking area for six B-52s.
According to Pentagon’s plans, the new facilities would support strategic operations which include running multiple 15-day training exercises for deployed B-52 squadrons during the Northern Territory dry season.
Citing US documents, the report says that the air base expansion is expected to be finished in late 2026 and could cost up to $100 million. It is allegedly part of a much larger upgrade of US defense assets across northern Australia, which would include a major expansion of the Pine Gap intelligence base.
As fears grow that China is preparing for an assault on Taiwan, Becca Wasser from the Centre for New American Security says that putting B-52s in northern Australia is sending a signal to Beijing that any of its actions over the island could also expand further.
Wasser believes that having bombers that could range and potentially attack mainland China could be very important in warning Beijing against attacking Taiwan.
However, under international treaties Australia has signed, none of the B-52s would be able to carry nuclear weapons while visiting Australia since the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Australia signed in 1985 prohibits member states from stationing nuclear explosive devices in their territories.