The Air Force has deployed six B-52s to the military base on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, CNN reported Monday.
Citing an unnamed official, CNN said in a tweet that the Stratofortress bombers will be available for operations against Iran. But, CNN said, their deployment does not mean that an order has been given to strike Iran.
The Pentagon declined to confirm CNN’s report on the B-52s, or any other deployment of airmen or Air Force assets, citing operational security concerns.
Tensions between the United States and Iran have spiked in recent weeks, culminating in a Iranian-backed militia’s storming of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and then a U.S. airstrike that killed powerful Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.
In a Tuesday interview, retired Gen. Hawk Carlisle — former head of Air Combat Command and head of the National Defense Industrial Association — said there would be several advantages to stationing B-52s at Diego Garcia. It would free up space at bases inside the Middle East to station other aircraft, such as fighters or ISR aircraft, that don’t have the B-52’s 8,800-mile range or might have to quickly respond to an emergency.
Diego Garcia’s location — more than 3,000 miles from the southern edge of Iran — would put it out of range of medium-range ballistic missiles launched from Iran.
The Air Force also may have wanted to keep the B-52, one of the Air Force’s two nuclear-capable bombers, out of sight to keep from further inflaming tensions in the already volatile Middle East, Carlisle said.
The Air Force previously deployed B-52s to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar last May. Alongside F-15C Eagles, the B-52s flew missions intended to deter Iranian aggression.
In November, the Air Force deployed F-16s from the 555th Fighter Squadron at Aviano Air Base in Italy to Al Udeid.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.