March 17, 2015

Commentary: The Imperative of Long-Range Strike

By Kelley Sayler and Paul Scharre

Later this spring, the Department of Defense will unveil its decision for the new long-range strike bomber. The program, designed to supplement aging bomber inventories and replace outmoded technologies, will ensure continued freedom of action in the face of increasingly sophisticated air defense systems and provide an important contribution to the preservation of the American military advantage. Given the criticality of the capabilities provided by the new bomber, it will be crucial for the program to proceed apace — free from requirements creep, on cost and on schedule.

There is a robust, bipartisan consensus that the new long-range bomber is a key instrument of nuclear and conventional power projection. The current fleet is rapidly aging and possesses technology that is inadequate to meet the threats of the future. Today's bomber fleet consists of the non-stealthy but high ordnance-capacity B-52s, with an average airframe age of 50 years, and B-1s, which average 28 years. While these platforms have undergone life extension programs that will enable them to remain in the fleet until 2040, they could not survive advanced air defenses and thus are ill-suited to operations in the contested environments that the United States will likely face in the future. The stealthy B-2, in contrast, enjoys a newer airframe — with an average age of 20 years — but also is largely reliant on Cold War-era technology, and only 20 are still in service. At any given time, fewer still are available operationally, as some aircraft are, by necessity, rotated through routine maintenance.

Read the full piece at Defense News.

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