Many military strategists and futurists have argued that expensive strategic bombers like the U.S. B2 Bomber are expensive anachronisms given trends in modern warfare and dramatic advances in inexpensive drone technology over the last decade or so.
Some of the more hidebound types in the Defense Department aren’t buying this argument, however, and say that the current plans to buy 80 to 100 new bombers in the next few years is just not enough.
One example is retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Moeller, who told lawmakers and the media in a presser in Washington on Wednesday of this week that the U.S. really needs a long-range bomber fleet of around 150 to 200 planes,
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The recommendation in his new white paper essentially doubles the number of bombers the Air Force is currently planning to purchase, but Moeller says more strategic bombers are required to maintain our current advantage in long-range precision-strike missions.
The time to bring on new bombers is now
In his remarks, former General Moeller also said the United States should start building a 200-plane bomber fleet when deliveries of the next-generation bomber begin by avoiding attrition
“You can build a bomber force more quickly by retaining B-52s and B-1s over the course of the LRSB [long range strategic bomber] build-up,” he pointed out.
The USAF bomber fleet totals 158 aircraft today, including 62 B-1 Lancers, 20 B-2 Spirits and 76 of the older B-52 Stratofortresses. According to Moeller, it is possible to be more selective instead of retire the older aircraft one-to-one as new bombers enter service.
Moeller currently employed as a consultant / lobbyist
Moeller’s comments came during a presentation on Wednesday to publicize the release of “U.S. Bomber Force: Sized to Sustain an Asymmetric Advantage for America,” a white paper he authored as a fellow of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies (affiliated with the Air Force Association, an advocacy group based in Virginia).
“In the long term, to maintain the bomber force’s viability, the Defense Department should consider funding additional advanced bombers beyond those 100 aircraft before the last B-1s and B-52s retire in 2045,” he argues in his white paper.
Moeller, a consultant on aerospace and national security, was the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs at Headquarters, Air Force for several years.
According to Moeller, current USAF plans will give the U.S. a bomber fleet of 120 by 2045, with around 100 available for both conventional and nuclear operations, This would include around 100 relatively new bombers and 20 B-2s, he said.
The worry here is that a bomber fleet having to support a large-scale conventional conflict would hurt nuclear deterrence if we had to drop below the minimum of 60 strategic bombers the air force says it needs (as per the START treaty) to be prepared to respond to a nuclear threat.
This means the U.S. needs to maintain a 200-aircraft fleet of advanced bombers to provide an operational force of some 150 to 160 planes and ensure “the nuclear and conventional air-breathing power projection option to deter or defeat any foe.”
The USAF gave the contract to Northrop Grumman, the maker of the B-2 bomber, to design and develop the new bombers just last month. The award, however, is being protested by Lockheed Martin and Boeing which lost a team bid for the LRSB contract.
The contract includes $21.4 billion for engineering and manufacturing development of the new bombers. When you adjust for inflation, the cost is $564 million per plane in 2016 dollars, given an order of 100 aircraft, according to Bill LaPlante, head of Air Force acquisition.