The U.S. military has begun a staged, five-year process that will see each of its three main stealth warplane types deployed to bases near China. When the deployments are complete in 2017, Air Force F-22s and B-2s and Marine Corps F-35s could all be within striking range of America's biggest economic rival at the same time. With Beijing now testing its own radar-evading jet fighters — two different models, to be exact — the clock is counting down to a stealth warplane showdown over the Western Pacific.
The gradual creation of the U.S. stealth strike force is an extension of the Pentagon's much-touted "strategic pivot" to the Pacific region, and echoes the much faster formation, earlier this year, of a similar (but only partially stealthy) aerial armada in the Persian Gulf. That team of F-22s, non-stealthy F-15s and specialized "Bacon" radio-translator planes was clearly meant to deter a belligerent Iran, although the Pentagon denied it.
The announcements of new Pacific deployments of F-22s, F-35s and B-2s have come like a drumbeat in recent weeks. Early last month, 8th Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Stephen Wilson, who controls the Air Force's 20-strong B-2 fleet normally based in Missouri, said "small numbers" of his multi-billion-dollar batwing bombers would begin rotating into the Pacific and other regions starting next year. The rotations would last "for a few weeks, a couple of times a year," Wilson told Air Force magazine.