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US Bombers With Nuclear Cruise Capability Deployed to Indian Ocean Amid Iran Tensions

US officials announced earlier this month that the Pentagon would be sending six B-52H Stratofortress long-range bombers to Diego Garcia, a strategic British territory south of the Arabian Sea, amid escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran over the assassination of a senior Iranian commander.

The US Air Force has completed the flyover deployment of the fourth and fifth B-52H bombers to Diego Garcia, with a sixth en route through the western Mediterranean after passing the Strait of Gibraltar, monitoring data cited by aircraft trackers and analysts suggests.

The bombers, each capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds (31,500 kg) of bombs, mines and missiles, including long-range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, were committed to be deployed to the region on January 6, three days after the US drone strike assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a senior Iranian general, in Baghdad, which saw tensions between the US and Iran spike to their worst levels since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

The fifth B-52H took off from the Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, and was refuelled in the Mediterranean by a Moron, Spain-based US Air Force KC-135R tanker.

Among the weapons which can be deployed aboard the B-52H is the AGM-86B subsonic air-launched cruise missile, capable of carrying either a conventional or nuclear payload a distance of between 1,100 and 2,400 km, as well as a range of conventional gravity bombs.

The deployment could be an attempt by the Pentagon to find a weak spot in Iran’s dense network of air defences, which includes a range of advanced domestically-produced systems such as the Khordad 3, which successfully tracked and destroyed a stealthy $220 million RQ-4A Global Hawk US spy drone last June after it allegedly veered into Iranian airspace over the Strait of Hormuz.

Diego Garcia, an overseas territory of the UK, is located about 3,700 km south of Iran’s southernmost point, making it well within the striking range of the B-52H, which has a total confirmed range of 14,162 km. AGM-86Bs have an operational range of between 1,100 and 2,400 km.

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