The US military says that B-52 Stratofortress bombers will be part of the additional forces being sent to the Middle East to counter what the administration has warned are “clear indications” of threats from Iran to American forces in the region.
White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Sunday that the United States was sending carrier strike group Abraham Lincoln, half a dozen ships manned by roughly 6,000 sailors, to the region.
Capt Bill Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command, said that the task force would include B-52 bombers.
America often has bomber groups in the region – the B-1 aircraft were present as recently as last month. But the B-52 is different.
The aircraft are gargantuan. Despite their age, having first entered service in the 1950s, the nearly 8,400 kg B-52 is rolled out when America wants to send a message.
The armaments are daunting. Ability to carry a stock of air-launched cruise missiles with nuclear warheads might be the headline grabber, but they can cart vast quantities of regular armaments.
They can circle at height, a long way away from the target while firing off cruise missiles from well out of range of air defences.
More than anything, it can also fly a long way – over 14,000 kilometres – and in-air refuelers keep them going.
The B-52 has been used in almost every significant fight the US has had since the Second World War.
When Washington wants to take a vast quantity of munitions over a target halfway around the world, they send the B-52.
For eight years during the Cold War from 1960, America kept B-52 bombers armed with nuclear payloads in the air continuously along the border of the Soviet Union. In the event that Moscow started a nuclear war, the bombers were to proceed to deliver a devastating response to the USSR.
More recently, America has flown the B-52 on deterrence missions around the world when it wants to make a point that it can – if needed – start a fight. This deployment sends a clear message to Iran: watch out.