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.”

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The last B52 could nearly be 100 years old when it’s retired. I think you’d have to go back to Medieval swords for hardware that’s lasted and been used for as long.


True. What people also forget is theirs are hundreds more B52s in storage in the Arizona desert due to treaties.


I think you may be mistaken, there are not hundreds in storage. HW Bush signed a treaty during his presidency which authorized the destruction of all the G model B-52s. Only the H model is still in use, a few are in storage that can be quickly reactivated. One was a couple of years ago due to a B-52 being destroyed by fire. Ghost Rider was its nickname I believe.


And they say the Tornado is too old and costly, it’s all nonsense. This new policy regarding B52’s should come as an eye-opener, to those who readily retire perfectly serviceable aircraft. The F35 according to recent reports is not ready to replace anything, and that could be the case for some considerable time?? Why did the RAF /MOD cut the lifeline on Tornado, when they knew the Typhoon and F35’s were not up to full operational capability? In 2019 the Tornado will go, but I fear there will be a vacuum in frontline capability?


Ah I forgot about New START. However that was Obama in 2010 not Bush who signed the treaty. He did support it though. Like Iraq not his smartest call.


I am talking about Bush 41 (89-92), not his son Bush 43 (01-09).



Ben P

Also interesting that the US airforce wants a new jet to replace the super-hornets in the 2030, which need to be capable of accompanying the B-21 on long range penetration missions. This new jet is supposed to work alongside the F-35.


LOL, the sums the US spends on “defence” is staggering and they do seemed to have formed a habit of doing things in the correct order, first introduce the new platform and then retire the older one. It is a simple formula that the UK MOD can’t quite get it’s head around.


The Navy’s “F/A-XX” programme was supposed to be more developed now.

And if they think they can develop a 6th gen platform all on their own, they are in for a shock.


Of course they could, but why would they when they suck others in to reduce costs to themselves and generate orders/exports from international “partners” ?

Tim sinnett

Can anyone tell me why we don’t have any long range bombers anymore? Is it just money again? I know we haven’t had a huge amount of use for them but one day we might and be caught with our trousers down. Would be nice to see just a couple of squadrons of something like a B1 as a deterrent… but I’ll just keep dreaming.


“Can anyone tell me why we don’t have any long range bombers anymore?”

With the removal of air dropped nukes, add air-refuelling ,Long range cruise missiles, and of course the proliferation of long range AAA ,then the requirement for extreme long range assets isn’t simply there.


Mostly because the RAF did not have an equivalent to a General Curtis LeMay. Who was in many ways the father of the USAF after WWII. What he advocated was the massive use of both conventional and nuclear ordnance without ANY regard for enemy casualties. Due to his relative youth after the war and popularity amongst the officer and enlisted corps as well as the American people. General LeMay shaped Air Force policy, procurements, and doctrine for a LONG time. Included in his doctrine was that a tanker fleet while good was irresponsible to be relied on. That allies should… Read more »

Tim sinnett

Thanks for the answers. I’m just intigued as other countries have them and still feel the need in case major war broke out ie Russia USA China. If they attacked us we would have no large scale ability to hit back. Our ‘stock pile’ of 60 odd cruise missiles isn’t going to go far and our Typhoons would be tied up on air defence duties as we only have 50 front line.
Wonder if the us would sell us some used B1bs when they come off line at a bargain price? Not that it will happen I know.


Why haven’t the uk developed a long range bomber, i’m sure it could be done for a reasonable cost if we didn’t look for it to be a stealth and we have world leading capabilities to produce long range missiles

Daniele Mandelli

Really??? It would cost a fortune!

Peter French

I may be a little stupid but I thought Missiles were the bees knees for strategic bombing not to revert to ww2 systems.
Whats altered in strategic thinking

Daniele Mandelli

They are. B52 carried ALCM in the Cold War. The penetration mission is for B2 now.

The RAFs Vuclans carried Blue Steel, or was it Blue Streak?

Mike Saul

Air launched cruise missiles and enemy who no viable air defence systems, for example the Taliban and Isis

Mike Saul

The UK should buy 20 B21 bombers that would give real global reach and power projection given the number of islands with airfields we own around the globe.

Daniele Mandelli

If only…..

David Steeper

Out of all the things we need to spend money on. A strategic bomber will not be one of them. And rightly so.


Why rightly so? Of all the policy formulators of the late 20th and now 21st LeMay has proven if not entirely correct certainly the one with the most foresight. Strategic bombers using modern precision bombs and cruise missiles are one of the tools that have proved most devastating to the enemy whether the B52 or it’s opposition the Bear. The only time their is any argument against strategic bombers is from a position either lack of study or lack moral courage. Due to the fact they believe War can be won cleanly win in fact they end up prolonging war… Read more »

Mark Keeler

Just like the Soviet doctrine in WW2. Can you imagine how many allied soldiers could have been saved in Normandy with this approach instead of the penny packet attacks that were carried out followed by retiring to regroup.

Daniel Powell

British should buy heavy bomber since we retired Vulcan, would be nice see new designs “stealth” vuclan 2 or buy b21 raider in Limited number (8 to 20) will be idea to use heavy weapon or long range heavy attack to support NATO or EU, allied. As we are only use short range bomber/attack torando which not good enough, my opinion. Which tornado will replacement uacv for short bomber/attack roles which good start. Personally, We should for short range we should mixed uacv and manned short range attacker, with long range dual-purpose (manned and uacv) heavy bomber, to give British… Read more »