ORLANDO, Florida The United States has begun operating two types of radar-evading aircraft, a bomber and a fighter, for the first time together in the Pacific, the head of U.S. air forces in the region said on Friday.
The pairing of advanced B-2 bombers and F-22 fighters in the region follows what the United States and its allies suspect are preparations by North Korea to test fire a long-range Taepodong-2 missile capable of striking U.S. soil.
North Korea said on Tuesday it planned to launch a satellite on a rocket as a part of a peaceful space program.
Air Force General Howie Chandler, commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, said the deployment was not designed to deliver a political message. But the move showcases an element of advanced U.S. military power in the Pacific at a time of tension over North Korea.
Chandler said the B-2s had been sent as part of a rotational bomber presence operating from Guam's Andersen Air Force Base since 2004.
The F-22s were brought from Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska to take advantage of better winter flying weather, he added.
"So the opportunity to deploy them both together came together for us," he said in a brief interview at a symposium on air warfare hosted by the U.S. Air Force Association in Orlando, Florida. "And it's a good opportunity for them to train together."
Guam is a U.S. territory about 3,400 miles southwest of Hawaii. Its Andersen Air Force Base is a major operational hub for U.S. forces in the Pacific.
Four Northrop Grumman Corp B-2 bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri replaced a rotational B-52 bomber unit on February 25 on Guam, said Colonel Donald Langley, a spokesman for Chandler, who is headquartered at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
A typical bomber rotation lasts four months, he said.
"It just so happens that this is the first time" such a presence overlapped with the F-22s, built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
Lockheed Martin has said it would start closing down the F-22 production line next week unless President Barack Obama opts to buy more than the 183 aircraft now on order.
(Editing by Andrew Gray)