Air Force general: Two-bomber fleet is the future

Air Force general: Two-bomber fleet is the future

The future of the Air Force’s bomber fleet will be the B-21 Raider, now under development, and a heavily modified version of the Cold War-era B-52 Stratofortress, Lt. Gen. David Nahom, deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, told lawmakers on Thursday.

Nahom said getting to that two-bomber fleet is important as the Air Force shifts to a strategy focused on what the Pentagon calls “great power competition” — preparing for a conflict with a peer or near-peer nation such as China or Russia.

“On the bomber fleet, there’s nothing more important to the Air Force,” Nahom told the House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower and projection forces. “If you look at what the bombers bring, no one else brings it. Our joint partners don’t bring it, our coalition partners don’t bring it.”

The B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit are important in the meantime, and each bring important capabilities, Nahom said. The B-2′s ability to penetrate enemy airspace and carry nuclear weapons, and the volume of ordnance the B-1 can carry, make each aircraft crucial for now, he said. The Air Force needs to keep the B-2 until the B-21 is delivered and nuclear-certified, he said, which will likely take about a decade.

Keeping the B-1 is trickier, Nahom said, largely because the Air Force has flown it so hard over the last several years.

“We’ve used that airplane, and overused it over many years,” Nahom said of the B-1. “It’s broken, in many ways.”

Lightning strikes behind a B-1B Lancer parked on the flight line as a major storm approaches Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. May 18, 2017. The B-1B is at Tinker AFB undergoing depot level maintenance and has been stripped of the majority of its paint. (Greg Davis/Air Force)

The Air Force reported a 51.75 percent mission-capable rate for its 62 Lancers in 2018. But last August, Gen. John Hyten, now vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers that just six B-1 Lancers were fully mission-capable, indicating the fleet is in much worse shape than was previously known.

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