China has warned the US’ plans to regularly base six of its nuclear-capable B-52 bombers at RAAF Base Tindal may “trigger an arms race in the region”.
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The country’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, urged the US and Australia to abandon what it branded an “outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality” and “narrow geopolitical mindset”.
“Such a move by the US and Australia escalates regional tensions, gravely undermines regional peace and stability, and may trigger an arms race in the region,” Lijian said.
He added the countries should “do more things that are good for regional peace and stability and mutual trust among all parties”.
It follows a report by Four Corners on Monday that revealed Washington will build dedicated facilities in the Northern Territory, including a “squadron operations facility” and parking areas for the aircraft. While the aircraft is a regular visitor to Australia, the development means B-52s will effectively be regularly based here.
It comes amid growing tensions with China and after the US sent six of its B-2 Spirit bombers to train at RAAF Base Amberley this year.
The upgrades to Tindal that will allow it to house B-52 are expected to cost $22.5 million and be financed by the US government.
The US Air Force appeared to confirm the plans telling the ABC, “The RAAF’s ability to host USAF bombers, as well as train alongside them, demonstrates how integrated our two air forces are.”
However, both the federal government and territory governments have played down any concerns the new facility at Tindal could escalate relations in the region.
The Minister for Northern Australia, Madeleine King, called the base upgrade a “welcome investment” that would be good for the community and jobs.
Meanwhile, the Northern Territory’s Deputy Chief Minister, Nicole Manison, added the move wouldn’t be a cause for concern.
“I think everybody acknowledges that the Northern Territory has always been … a defence place,” Manison said.
“I think territorians are very comfortable with that, they understand our strategic location, and generally are very supportive of that defence investment.”
The B-52H Stratofortress is a long-range, heavy bomber that can perform a variety of missions, including nuclear and conventional bombing alongside maritime surveillance.
The US currently has a fleet of 76, and the aircraft type has been in operation for more than 60 years. During the first Gulf War, it dropped 40 per cent of the coalition force’s weapons.
It has an unrefuelled combat range in excess of 14,000 kilometres.
“The B-52 is capable of dropping or launching the widest array of weapons in the US inventory,” states the US Air Force’s website.
“This includes gravity bombs, cluster bombs, precision-guided missiles and joint direct attack munitions.
“Updated with modern technology, the B-52 is capable of delivering the full complement of joint-developed weapons and will continue into the 21st century as an important element of our nation’s defences.
“The Air Force currently expects to operate B-52s through 2050.”
It comes after the US sent six of its batwing, B-2 Spirit stealth bombers to Amberley this year to train with RAAF F-35s.
The UFO-like Spirit can also carry nuclear weapons and is thought to be the most expensive aircraft ever made, valued at around $2 billion each.
Their visit amounted to the biggest-ever deployment of the US’ most important military jet to Australia, with the country’s active fleet only numbering 20.
It came as US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. China retaliated by testing ballistic missiles over Taipei for the first time.