Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The U.S. Air Force continues preparing for a war against either Russia or China and has outlined its plans to strengthen its strategic bomber fleet that will take the fight to the enemy.
Its budget request for fiscal year 2019 revealed plans to update the Boeing B-52H Stratofortress fleet, and continue modifications to the Rockwell B-1 Lancer supersonic bomber and Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber fleets while continuing to acquire the new B-21 Raiders still in development.
“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 Wilson.
“We will also continue necessary B-1 and B-2 modifications to keep them relevant until the B-21s come on line.”
Once sufficient Northrop Grumman B-21s are operational, the B-1s and B-2s will be incrementally retired. Delivery and retirement timelines depend 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,” said Wilson. “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. It will serve as a visible, flexible deterrent to adversaries and assure U.S. partners and allies.
“Modernizing and recapitalizing 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.”
What will distinguish the B-21 Raider from the B-2 is the former’s enhanced stealthiness and its capability to loiter over the battlefield for extended periods of time, allowing it to hit multiple targets of opportunity with precision.
It’s being designed to survive daylight raids in heavily defended enemy territory such as those inside an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zone. The B-21 will carry a weapons load of up to 12,700 kg (28,000 lb).
The Air Force plans to purchase at least 100 B-21s at a cost of $550 million each. The B-21 is described as a fifth-generation global precision attack platform that will give the U.S. networked sensor-shoot capability.
For the elder B-2 to fly in the heavily contested battlespace designed to be overcome by the B-21 means the former’s avionics and electronics systems will have to be upgraded.
As a result, the B-2 fleet is undergoing a series of modernization upgrades to ensure the aircraft can remain at its ultimate effective capability for the next several decades.
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