When China began testing its first aircraft carrier earlier this month, Washington was quick to issue a stern rebuke, scolding Beijing for its lack of transparency regarding the vessel’s purpose. “We would welcome any kind of explanation,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
But in an increasingly tense western Pacific, both the United States and China are guilty of obfuscation about their military capabilities. It recently came to light the Pentagon appears to have lied about the condition of its small fleet of radar-evading B-2 stealth bombers, one of its most important weapon systems in its campaign of deterrence against a rising China.
The U.S. Air Force possesses some 160 long-range bombers – the biggest fleet of bombers in the world. But only 20 are the latest B-2 model, designed to be largely invisible to enemy radars. The Air Force stations a dozen or so bombers at a time at its large air base on Guam, where they form a major part of the United States’ Pacific arsenal.
In 2008, a B-2 crashed at Guam, reducing the stealth fleet to its current level. In the wake of the accident, critics bemoaned the Pentagon’s tendency to concentrate increasing combat power in a decreasing number of ultra-expensive “platforms.”