WASHINGTON — The US Air Force wants to buy 100 Long Range Strike-Bombers, Secretary Deborah Lee James said today, a figure at the high end of the 80-to-100-aircraft purchase the service predicted up until now earlier.
"I believe the number is 100," James said today at an event at the National Press Club, offering a rare detail on the service's plans for the hush-hush contract recently awarded to Northrop Grumman.
The service has faced mounting pressure in recent months to procure more LRS-Bs than the planned 80 to 100 planes, particularly in the face of increased aggression from Russia and China.
In study released Nov. 18 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.
"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."
During the roll-out event, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., 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 to 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."
Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, former deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (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, and the service needs another 24 aircraft for back-up and attrition reserve.