WASHINGTON — Lawmakers and analysts renewed calls Wednesday for the Pentagon to build significantly more next-generation bombers than currently planned, arguing that the Air Force needs a fleet of 200 advanced bombers to project power in a more dangerous world.
In study released today by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Moeller made the case for the Pentagon to procure a modernized bomber force of 200 aircraft by 2045.
“America desperately needs to rebuild its bomber force, starting with the [Long Range Strike Bomber] and then moving forward,” Moeller said. “100 new bombers, the analysis finds, is not enough.”
The Air Force plans to buy 80-100 LRS-Bs to replace the service’s aging B-1 and B-52 bombers, a number many advocates have decried as insufficient. The 100 LRS-Bs, plus the 20 existing stealth B-2 bombers, will not be enough to meet future threats, Moeller argued.
“Limiting production of the new bomber, LRS-B, to 100 airframes would severely decrease the options available to national decision-makers during times of crisis or periods of instability,” Moeller wrote in the study. “A modernized bomber force of 200 aircraft will sustain America’s asymmetric advantage in long-range precision strike for decades to come.”
Moeller left open the question of exactly what aircraft would make up the 200-bomber force. The future fleet could be entirely made up of LRS-Bs, or could include some combination of LRS-Bs, upgraded B-2s and whatever comes after LRS-B, he said.
Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, former deputy chief of staff for ISR, has said the Air Force needs to build 174 LRS-Bs: Airmen need 12 combat-coded aircraft for each of 10 squadrons, plus another 30 dedicated to training and testing; on top of that, the service needs another 24 aircraft for backup and attrition reserve.
Sens Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., as well as Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., and Del. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, also spoke at the event.
Rounds expressed concern that the Pentagon is shortchanging its future bomber force because of budgetary challenges.
“Analysis has consistently shown the Air Force needs 150 to 200 combat ready bombers, a figure far beyond the less than 100 bombers currently available for operational missions, and far beyond the 80-100 bombers envisioned by the Defense Department for the future force,” Rounds said. “Is their calculus national security or is it budget driven? I personally am convinced that it is budget driven.”
Forbes stressed the need to build a new fleet of long-range, large-payload bombers in the face of increasingly hardened and mobile targets in the Pacific, as well as Russian aggression.
“In the Pacific, range is going to be a key attribute that we're going to have to look at, but also payload is going to be important because we're going to have a huge amount of aim points that we would need to hit,” Forbes said. “So the question that we are all going to be asking is, how many copies of the bomber do we need? … This report makes a compelling argument that more are needed.”
During a Defense Writers Group breakfast earlier on Wednesday, Gen. Lori Robinson, Pacific Air Forces commander, said the LRS-B is crucial to the Air Force’s ability to project power in the Asia-Pacific.
“The theater is very big, 52 percent of the globe, and so our ability to power project through the theater would be one of the capabilities that we would want it to have,” Robinson said.
She added that flying LRS-Bs in the PACOM will show the US’ commitment to the theater in future decades, just as the Air Force’s “continuous bomber presence” in the region does now.