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The Air Force Needs More Bombers, Not Less

David Axe

Security,

Expert: “A single B-1 or B-2 can deliver the same effects as an entire aircraft carrier battle group in some circumstances. Bomber capabilities need to be bolstered, not cut.”

Facing flattening budgets in the coming years, the U.S. Air Force could as a cost-saving measure retire a portion of its roughly 160-strong bomber fleet. But experts and officials agree that, over the longer term, the Air Force needs more bombers, not fewer.

Squaring that circle is a major challenge for budgeteers. The Air Force claims that over the next few years it needs to find $30 billion in savings in its current, $150-billion annual budget in order to pay for new technologies. To that end, Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., urged the service to consider axing the B-1 and B-2 fleets.

One retired Air Force general, however, is urging the flying branch to hang on to every bomber, and continue upgrading them. “Reducing America’s current bomber force may significantly increase risk,” Dave Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in Virginia, wrote in Forbes.

Deptula doesn’t disagree that the Pentagon’s overall spending is likely to flatten or decrease following several years of growing budgets. But as planners look for savings, they should spare the fleet of B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers that the Air Force currently operates as well as the new B-21 bomber that the flying branch is developing in order to replace the B-1s and B-2s.

“There is no question that the Air Force is facing exceedingly difficult resource decisions as it assembles its fiscal-year 2021 budget,” Deptula wrote.

“However, there are core mission areas where the Air Force provides outsized mission value—affording effective and efficient policy options that cannot be accomplished any other way without enormous resource expenditures,” the retired general added. “A single B-1 or B-2 can deliver the same effects as an entire aircraft carrier battle group in some circumstances. Bomber capabilities need to be bolstered, not cut.”

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