The U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) has briefed congressional defense authorizers on the Air Force bomber roadmap, which lays out a requirement for more than 220 in future years, AFGSC Commander Gen. Timothy Ray told reporters on Feb. 25.
“The number of bombers we need is north of 220,” he said during a question and answer session at the Air Force Association’s virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium. “The roadmap to get to 220 is exactly the same as we’re going to approach to get to 175. Certainly, the addition of more bomber aircraft at this time is simply more B-21s. That roadmap still includes making sure the B-2 is as viable as it can be until the B-21 is coming off [the production line] in appropriate numbers. It means that I need to divest of the more structurally challenged B-1s to get to a fleet of 45 [B-1s].”
The fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act allows the Air Force to cut 17 Boeing [BA] B-1B Lancer bombers from the fleet to meet the goal of 45. The service plans to retire the fleet by 2036. The Air Force also has planned to cut back on its Northrop Grumman [NOC] B-2 Spirit bombers as the company’s B-21 Raiders come off the line later this decade.
While the Air Force’s 2018 bomber roadmap had put forth a goal for 175, AFGSC has pushed for “north of 220” aircraft in the bomber fleet through a number of paths to reach that number over the next five years (Defense Daily, Apr. 9, 2020).
Ray said on Feb. 25 that he has briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee on the new roadmap and was to brief the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 25.
The briefings come under Section 1333 of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which required the secretary of the Air Force to submit by Feb. 1 “a report with recommendations for the bomber aircraft force structure that enables the Air Force to meet the requirements of its long-range strike mission under the National Defense Strategy.”
The report is to include a plan and a date for meeting an established minimum number of bomber aircraft, as well as the minimum number of primary mission aircraft, the penetrating bomber force structure necessary to meet the requirements of the long-range strike mission of the Air Force in contested or denied environments under the National Defense Strategy, including the total minimum number of penetrating bomber aircraft and the minimum number of primary mission penetrating bomber aircraft.
Last September, Ray laid out a U.S. Air Force goal for 220 bombers–75 re-engined Boeing B-52Hs and 145 B-21s, but he noted that that number could change (Defense Daily, Sept. 14, 2020).
The Air Force wants to keep the number of maintenance personnel for the bomber fleet stable as part of a downpayment on the B-21, re-engining the B-52 and giving it a new radar, and adding a new cruise missile for the B-52–the Raytheon [RTX] Long Range Stand Off weapon (LRSO).
“That sequenced set of steps has all been laid out,” Ray said of the bomber roadmap on Feb. 25.
The Air Force wants to buy about 1,000 LRSO for the B-52H at a cost of about $10.8 billion, according to a 2020 report by the Congressional Research Service.
The B-52 may also carry hypersonic weapons–the Lockheed Martin [LMT] AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) and the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM). The latter is in early development, but “the HACM will give us an additional set of capabilities that will be both fitted for bombers and for fighter aircraft,” Ray said.
Ray said that AFGSC had foreseen a number of bomber force structure challenges and set about resolving them.
“We saw some significant problems and set the conditions in a very capable way,” he said. “We’ve sorted out through the weapons generation facility requirements and New Start Treaty, sustaining the TF-33 [B-52 engine] until the new engine comes on line, [Section] 804 authorities that allow us digital prototyping of the new engines and the integration on the B-52. What I’d like to continue to pursue is external carriage on the B-1 and the hypersonic capacity to bring ARRW and perhaps even HACM to the B-52 and then to look for other opportunities. That roadmap is very well thought out now.”
The U.S. Air Force expects first flight of the B-21 in 2022, as the service moves to lighten the training road for crew members of the new stealth bomber, which is to have a unit cost not to exceed $550 million in base year 2010 dollars–about $650 million today (Defense Daily, Sept. 1, 2020).