A senior US official has revealed that Washington would consider providing Australia with high-performance B-21 bomber aircraft as China continues to bolster its military capabilities.
The remark was made by US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall after meeting Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) official Robert Chipman in Canberra earlier this week.
For many years, the US has been reluctant to equip allies with military equipment and weapons of high strategic significance such as nuclear-powered submarines and strategic bombers.
However, the US Secretary noted that Washington and its allies are concerned about China’s continuing military buildup and behavior in the South China Sea.
“We are in what I consider to be a race for military technological superiority with the Chinese,” Kendall told The Strategist, a website affiliated with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
The US Air Force is expected to deploy at least 100 B-21 bombers, with the first units scheduled to become operational in the mid-2020s.
No ‘Fundamental Limitation’
Kendall’s recent visit to Canberra was intended to discuss collaboration in the development of new air and space capabilities.
However, reporters asked the secretary about the extent of the US-Australia partnership, particularly in developing and deploying strategic bombers.
The Strategist asked Kendall if the US would also consider allowing Australia to join in developing B-21 bombers to provide the RAAF with a long-range strike capability.
“I don’t think that there’s any fundamental limitation on the areas in which we can cooperate,” the secretary said. “If Australia had a requirement for long-range strike … then we’d be willing to have a conversation with them about that.”
However, Chinese military analyst Song Zhongping suggested that the US could equip Canberra with a B-21 variant that is only capable of conventional strikes.
He also admitted that the bomber aircraft could pose a serious challenge to China because it is capable of intercontinental flight and striking at long range.
If Australia acquires the B-21, the country could essentially become an “overseas bomber base” of the US military, Song told Chinese government-owned Global Times.