Bombers for Maritime Strike: an Asymmetric Counter to China’s Navy

As the Department of Defense examines how to rebalance its portfolio of capabilities to meet an increasingly challenging threat environment, Deptula makes the case for reviving a mission well suited to land-based long range bombers—maritime strike. From the sinking of the SMS Ostfriesland by Billy Mitchell in 1921, to the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II, to the Cold War when B-52s were enlisted to keep the Soviet Union’s navy in check, land-based airpower has proved its utility time and again against naval forces. While airpower’s role in joint maritime operations has been de-emphasized since the end of the Cold War, Deptula observes that China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is deploying large numbers of modern warships in the Western Pacific in a bid to challenge U.S. interests. With the U.S. Navy stretched thin meeting concurrent demands around the world, the number of American vessels available to address the threat posed by the PLAN is limited.

The challenge presents an opportunity. Bombers’ speed, range, payload, and survivability affords advantageous capabilities when engaging against targets in the maritime domain. As Deptula explains, in an era where the U.S. is retooling to confront near peer militaries, the Air Force “should train and equip its bombers for the maritime strike mission, as it once did just a few decades ago during the Cold War.” This will represent a strong, effective, and cost-efficient deterrent to Chinese aggression. It will also afford commanders with highly effective options should conflict arise.

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