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Extra Bombers to Pacific? Not Right Now, General Says

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over the Pacific Ocean March 10, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Christopher E. Quail)
A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over the Pacific Ocean March 10, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Christopher E. Quail)

The Air Force does not plan to increase its bomber presence in the Pacific region even as North Korea continues to threaten the United States and its allies, a general said Wednesday.

Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said there are no plans at this time to add more strategic bombers to the theater. The aircraft are often flown to act as a deterrent against the hostile nation.

Any formal changes to plans in the Pacific would be under the purview of Adm. Harry B. Harris, head of Pacific Command, "because we're providing those forces that combatant commanders [need]," said Rand, who spoke Tuesday at an Air Force Association Mitchell Institute event in Washington, D.C.

"When we're there, we're under their operational control," he said.

The command is responsible for the nation's three intercontinental ballistic missile wings and the Air Force's entire bomber force, which includes the B-52, B-1 and B-2, and eventually will include the the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber program, which is currently in production.

Earlier this month, two Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers flew near the Korean peninsula, days after North Korea conducted another ballistic missile launch. The U.S. military has maintained a deployed strategic bomber presence in the Pacific since 2004.

How the U.S. military intends to respond to North Korean provocations remains unclear.

When asked if the U.S. may be gearing up to shoot down the next North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile test, Rand said, "I don't have any information on that."

The general also said he was "not familiar with the specifics on the missile tests" that North Korea has conducted in recent months. U.S. Strategic Command, of which Global Strike is a subordinate component command, tracks missile tests.

Harris, the Pacom chief, has said he believes Hawaii needs more missile interceptors given the growing threat.

"I do believe that the numbers could be improved. In other words, we need more interceptors," Harris said before a House Armed Services Committee last month.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Sen. Daniel Scott Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, said during a Senate Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing that he's willing to introduce a bill increasing U.S. missile defenses.

"A madman could possibly be threatening three million people" or more, Sullivan said of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's regular threats against cities across the U.S.

The lawmaker also said he's tired of hearing that cost is what stands between protecting the American people and assurance that is needed now.

Newly minted Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson; Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein; Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, Space and Missile Systems Center commander; and Gen. John Raymond, commander of Space Command, testified before the panel.

Raymond and Wilson -- making her debut before Congress in her new job -- said they're in constant contact with the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency regarding North Korea.

But Sullivan said more needs to be done. Based "from the testimony, you'll appreciate what we're trying to do here in the Senate," he said, stopping short of saying when a bill may be debated on the floor.

Rand also declined to comment on the Pentagon's nuclear posture review that kicked off April 17. He told reporters at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium in February he would not participate in the posture review -- designed to determine what the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security strategy should be -- because it is a policy -- not operational -- matter.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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