The US Air Force outlined plans for its bomber fleet in its Fiscal Year 2019 President’s Budget Request this week.
In line with the service’s bomber vision, the budget request detailed the plan to update the B-52 Stratofortress fleet and continue modifications to the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit fleets while continuing to acquire B-21 Raiders.
“As part of our decisions presented in the FY19 President’s Budget, the Air Force will update the B-52 bomber fleet and fund development of replacement engines,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson in a press release.
“We will also continue necessary B-1 and B-2 modifications to keep them relevant until the B-21s come on line.”
Once sufficient B-21 aircraft are operational, the B-1s and B-2s will be incrementally retired. Delivery and retirement timelines are dependent on the B-21 production and delivery schedules.
“If the force structure we have proposed is supported by the Congress, bases that have bombers now will have bombers in the future,” Wilson said. “They will be B-52s and B-21s.”
The B-21, which the Air Force plans to start fielding in the mid-2020s, will eventually become the backbone of the U.S. strategic bomber fleet and serve as a visible, flexible deterrent to adversaries and assure U.S. partners and allies.
“Modernising and recapitalising our bomber force is absolutely central to the recently released National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review,” said Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein.
“Our bomber force allows the commander in chief to hold targets at risk anywhere on the globe with unparalleled range and our most diverse payloads.”
The decision to maintain the B-52 is based on numerous factors including maintenance and sustainment metrics, such as aircraft availability, mission capability, supply, maintenance hours per flying hour and total cost perspectives.
“With an adequate sustainment and modernisation focus, including new engines, the B-52 has a projected service life through 2050, remaining a key part of the bomber enterprise well into the future,” said Gen. Robin Rand, Air Force Global Strike Command commander.
“At the end of Desert Storm in 1991 we had 290 total bombers,” said Rand.
“Today that force has dropped to 157 bombers at five bomb wings and 15 total force bomb squadrons. That’s a 46 percent decrease in our bomber force while we have conducted continuous combat operations such as Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Odyssey Dawn, Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel, in addition to continuous bomber rotations in the (U.S. Central Command) and (U.S. Pacific Command) areas of responsibility.”