February 14, 2018

JERRY HENDRIX: Don’t Retire Our Stealth Bombers.

In a surprising move, the Air Force’s Bomber Vector roadmap also includes a plan to retire all 20 of the service’s nuclear-capable, stealthy, B-2 Spirit bombers. These iconic, black flying wings have served as the backbone of the nation’s long-range penetrating strike force for the past quarter-century. The Air Force is arguing that, given the upfront costs of acquiring the new B-21 bombers, it can no longer afford to maintain the older B-2 aircraft.

Even the most cursory analysis of the global security environment highlights long-range penetrating strike as the critical emerging mission requirement, especially in light of the expansion of anti-access area-denial capabilities, which include advanced surface-to-air defensive missile capabilities. This analysis suggests that the Air Force will need more bomber capacity than can be supplied by its 100 new B-21 bombers.

In fact, multiple reports from various analysts reveal that the Air Force will need a minimum of 160 penetrating, long-range strike bombers if the nation decides to execute a sustained campaign against a rival great power. Against this strategic context, any proposal by Air Force leadership to retire a key component of the nation’s nuclear strategic triad and diminish our overall capacity to penetrate modern anti-air defenses can only be viewed as a blatant attempt to coerce Congress into raising its overall budgetary top line.

We slowed down (under Bush) and then capped (under Obama) production of F-22s at a mere 187 airframes, under the (false) assumption that air superiority battles were a thing of the past. Are we going to make the same mistake with our bomber fleet?