Congratulations to the US Air Force and Department of Defense for their successful award of the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) contract. This is great news for the country: At an average per-unit cost well below the $550 million in fiscal 2010 dollars on which the program was based, the LRS-B will be a great bargain for the taxpayer.
Except for a handful of B-2s, no other capability in the US inventory has the range, payload and survivability to perform a multitude of missions across the spectrum of military operations from peace to conflict. What's more, previous investments in long-range bombers have proved viable for more than half a century due to the inherent adaptability and flexibility of the bomber.
It would require many other platforms combined to service the same national security missions that the LRS-B will be capable of performing for years to come. While critics of long-range air power will want to challenge the need for the LRS-B, its value speaks for itself.
The new bomber will not only become a key element of the nation's nuclear deterrence force but also enhance strategic stability by providing the president a range of nuclear and non-nuclear options to manage crises and control escalation during a conflict.
Its credibility as an attack platform will limit the value of competitors developing a revolutionary counter to US ballistic missiles and serve as a hedge against a catastrophic loss of capability in the other triad legs. Additionally, the LRS-B will provide a valuable hedge against a possible nuclear arms treaty weapon breakout by a US competitor.
LRS-B will possess the global force projection capabilities to conduct a show of force anywhere in the world, demonstrate national commitment to our allies even when based in the continental US, (CONUS), or and provide lethal effects against dynamic targets.
Long-range strike bombers provide a unique contribution to the success of US military operations abroad. Bombers facilitate use of diplomatic, economic and other non-military instruments of power to achieve national objectives, similar to their use in the Kosovo operations. Long-range strike bombers are unique in their ability to reach targets across the globe without the need for costly and time-consuming expeditionary deployment.
This provides the nation a rapid response capability at the outset of a crisis that can be transformed later into one providing persistence strike capabilities for extended operations. Its ability to trade range for persistence means that the LRS-B will also provide ground forces direct support to include surveillance, air attack, interdiction and theater strike.
The LRS-B will also contribute to regional stability by providing combatant commanders a range of conventional and nuclear options while operating from regional bases. When integrated with other US and partner joint capabilities, the LRS-B can then be used to influence the decision calculus of regional actors.
Unfortunately, the nation does not have enough bombers to meet today’s combatant commander needs. For this reason, initial LRS-B deliveries should be used to fill bomber shortfalls in the 10ten air expeditionary forces before the new bombers begin to replace elements of the legacy bomber fleet. One hundred 100 LRS-Bs should be considered the minimum initial procurement.
LRS-B will underpin a variety of alternative approaches to military operations. Working with other US and partner asymmetric capabilities, bombers can be used to empower indigenous forces to defeat otherwise more powerful adversaries. Recent examples include NATO operations in Bosnia, the Taliban takedown in Afghanistan, protection of Kurdish forces in northern Iraq at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and more recently, the operations over Libya.
Furthermore, LRS-B can be expected to leverage its range and sensors to support Navy maritime surveillance and interdiction operations.
The LRS-B is not just a modern version of the B-2. Due to its open mission systems architecture, the LRS-B's ability to integrate external information will give it an advantage over legacy long-range platforms. The LRS-B will serve as a key element in the future networked force, incorporating existing stealth communication technologies equal to, or better than, those on today's most advanced platforms.
Unlike legacy bombers, these networking capabilities will be fully integrated into the operation of the LRS-B weapon system, rather than implemented as "strapped on" modifications. Through the use of open mission systems, (OMS), the LRS-B will be able to easily incorporate new networks, links and other sources of data as they become available, and fully integrate new external sensors and other sources of information to remain highly effective throughout its service life.
A long-range strike force primarily centered on a new stealth bomber is the most affordable and effective means to deter our adversaries and assure our allies so that even in a stagnant budget environment, the safety and security of US citizens and our allies will never be in doubt.
The LRS-B contract award should be widely celebrated: It demonstrates DoD’s continued commitment to long-range bombers, substantially increases the joint force’s ability to project force in contested environments, and will be acquired at a much lower unit cost than originally projected. The LRS-B will provide US national security decision-makers and combatant commanders an expanded set of options to underpin global security, regional stability and the full range of military operations for years to come.