The SECDEF Himself Confirms: The Next Gen Bomber Is Absolutely Needed


Last week, anti-nuclear, anti-defense groups such as POGO, the “Council for a Livable World”, the Arms Control Association, and the Cato Institute were dealt a severe blow when no less an authority than the Secretary of Defense debunked their lie that the next generation bomber, and the US nuclear deterrent in general, are not needed.

Speaking to Airmen at Whiteman AFB, MO, outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel underlined the crucial importance of America’s nuclear deterrent:

“It’s always about strategic deterrence so that we don’t have to send our men and women into conflict. Our adversaries have to know and have to believe, and essentially have to trust that we have deterrent capability, that in fact we have everything we say we have.”

And he especially stressed the importance of fielding a new, stealthy bomber to replace the USAF’s old, obsolete B-52 and B-1 bombers – especially in view of China’s military buildup and America’s need to defeat any possible adversaries:

Hagel said the military should invest billions of dollars in developing a new aircraft to replace some of today’s aging bombers, in particular the B-52, which are more than 50 years old. He said the new aircraft program, known as the Long-Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, will be well funded in the budget request slated for release in February.

“I think the Long-Range Strike Bomber is absolutely essential for keeping our deterrent edge. … We need to do it. We need to make the investments. We’ll have it in the budget. It’s something I have particularly put a priority on.”

The bomber is absolutely needed because older bombers – the B-52 and the B-1 – stand absolutely no chance of being able to survive in airspace protected by, let alone defeat, modern Russian air defense systems such as the S-300, S-400, and their Chinese clones – and Russia is set to export both systems to Iran soon.

As reported by DefenseOne:

This new aircraft would reassure allies and extends the reach of U.S. military strategic power, Hagel said.

“It’s something that I have particularly put a priority on [in] the budgets and things that I’ve talked about with the Congress,” he said.  “I have confidence that the Congress will support us. It’s a critical element of our future long-range strategic deterrence capabilities.”

Later this year, the Air Force is expected to select either Northrop Grumman or a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team to build the new bomber. Pentagon leaders have said little about the project as it’s classified, with its details shrouded in secrecy.

According to DefenseNews, the US Air Force is set to choose who will build the next gen bomber – called the Long Range Strike Bomber – in late spring or early summer this year:

WASHINGTON — In late spring or early summer, the US Air Force will decide who will build its next-generation bomber. Yet, despite all the hype and public interest, the program remains shrouded in mystery.

The Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) program is stealthy, literally and figuratively. Few details are actually known about the bomber’s capabilities or design. But the program’s impact is already being widely felt throughout the Pentagon and its industry partners.

The half a dozen analysts and experts interviewed by Defense News for this piece all agree on one thing: the LRS-B has the chance to shape American military aerospace for the next 20 years. Whichever competitor wins will reap a windfall of development money; the loser could find itself out of the military attack airframe business entirely.

And while the program appears to be on track, Congress is waiting in the wings for any sign of cost overrun or technological problems.

“This is crunch time,” said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group. “It’s the biggest single outstanding DoD competition by a very wide margin. That makes it important in and of itself.”

Unfortunately, the $550 mn per unit price ceiling may limit the bomber’s capabilities:

A source with knowledge of the program said the Air Force is likely looking at something smaller than a B-2, perhaps as small as half the size, with two engines similar in size to the F135 engines that power the F-35, so enhancement programs can also be applied to the bomber.

“They should go bigger [in terms of airframe], but Gates threw that $500 million figure out there without thinking through the overall effect and requirement,” the source said.

Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, former deputy chief of staff for ISR, agreed that the focus on the $550 million figure may end up hurting the bomber’s capabilities by driving the discussion from what the plane does to what can keep the price down.

“One of the biggest concerns is that this is going to turn into a cost shootout, and whomever can produce a ‘technically acceptable’ airplane at the lowest cost will be the winner, without any judgment or look at the ability for growth, the ability to connect to new technologies,” he said. “That is a big concern amongst folks out there who are involved in this evolution.”

And then there are the theories that the bomber is further along in its development cycle than it appears. Last year, J.J. Gertler, an analyst with the Congressional Research Service penned a memo noting that the bomber’s budget profile looks more like a production than a research and development program, hinting that much of the technological development and testing has already occurred behind the scenes.

In any case, this demonstrates that – once again – I was right all along, and those anti-nuclear, anti-defense groups were dead wrong all along.

Source material:

1) http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/pentagon/2015/01/13/hagel-backs-air-force-plans-for-long-range-strike-bomber/21713815/

2) http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2015/01/new-air-force-bomber-critical-piece-pentagons-pacific-weaponry/102798/?oref=d-mostread; http://csbaonline.org/2015/01/13/new-air-force-bomber-is-a-critical-piece-of-the-pentagons-pacific-weaponry/

3) http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/air-space/strike/2015/01/18/air-force-bomber-industry/21805275/

4) http://missilethreat.com/sophisticated-russian-s-400-missiles-iran-new-military-pact-s-300s-egypt-syria-hizballah/

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