Robert Kaplan’s B-2-lovin’ story from September anticipated the hoopla surrounding Saturday’s first crash of the $2.5-billion bomber in Guam:
Andersen Air Force Base has long had a squadron of heavy bombers, deployed there to be close to Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula. On one of my previous visits to the base, in the autumn of 2004, I’d spent time with B-52 pilots from Barksdale Air Force Base, near Shreveport, Louisiana. They were young, happy-go-lucky, uncomplicated. I was profoundly curious about the B-2 pilots. For a host of reasons, they had to be different.
A B-2 Spirit costs roughly as much as a fast-attack nuclear submarine or a guided-missile destroyer. But whereas a Los Angeles–class submarine requires a crew of 130 and an Arleigh Burke–class destroyer a crew of 320, the B-2 has a crew of just two: a pilot and a mission commander. There are only 21 B-2s in the Air Force. Nobody else in the U.S. military is entrusted with as much responsibility, in terms of sheer dollars, as these bomber pilots are. If a single B-2 were to go down, even in training, it would be a banner-headline story.
What follows is a lot of embarrassing gushing over the B-2′s stealth characteristics and the central role it might play in taking out buried nuclear facilities in the event, God help us, that we went to war with Iran.
But Kaplan’s interest in Guam isn’t misplaced. The island base, seized from Spain in 1898, is one of two key toeholds that give America powerful leverage over events in the Pacific. From Guam, bombers can range all over the region, threatening armies, cities and shipping. The other toehold is Okinawa, a Japanese prefecture that the U.S. seized in World War II and where we still maintain one of the world’s largest air bases. Where remote Guam is an ideal bomber base, Kadena on Okinawa is close enough to Taiwan and the Koreas to bring fighter aircraft to bear.
Check out Andersen in Google Earth. Here’s a snapshot of B-1s and B-52s taking their turns as America’s big sticks in the Pacific. Elsewhere on the base are hundreds of parking spaces accommodating F/A-18 Hornets, tankers, cargo planes and helicopters.