B-1B Flies Dark Close To Russia, Over Kurils; China Announces Defense Budget

UPDATED TO INCLUDE STATEMENT FROM AFGSC.

WASHINGTON: Around the same time China was announcing a 6.6% defense spending increase on Thursday, civilian aircraft trackers spotted a US B-1B bomber flying dark (refusing to answer calls from civilian airliners) over the waters near the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East, not far from China and Japan — a rare move that could be a harbinger of things to come under DoD’s emerging strategy for the Indo-Pacific region that includes a new ‘dynamic deployment’ concept for bombers.

“This B-1 left from home base, got a great training mission, and showed its capability for a 29-hour round-trip into the super-busy airspace around Japan where Chinese and Russian fighters routinely buzz the borders,” said Rebecca Grant, head of IRIS Independent Research.

“China, Russia and North Korea all took notice,” she added. “It’s unpredictability with a purpose: the B-1 flight shows bombers can dagger into that airspace anytime packing precision weapons. In my opinion, we’ll see more of these dynamic missions because they amp up readiness for the crews, and deliver a show of force for Indo-Pacom.”

The Chinese defense spending increase, while impressive at first glance, appears to be the lowest increase in almost 30 years, Reuters reports. It’s a clear indicator of how hard the COVID-19 epidemic has struck the PRC’s economy. The US bomber maneuvers came as the USS Theodore Roosevelt returned to sea from Guam after being crippled for two months by a COVID-19 outbreak aboard ship. The latest presence mission comes amid reports that Chinese fighters have been flying close intercepts of US aircraft in the region over the last few weeks. And it’s a clear reflection of the newly-issued US strategic approach to the PRC.

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