Air Force General Fires Salvos at Long-Range Strike Bomber Critics

By Stew Magnuson
The Air Force general who oversees the service’s nuclear weapon delivery systems fired shots Jan. 20 at critics who say the planned long-range strike bomber is either too expensive, not technologically feasible or not needed in the first place.
“There are publications out there that are already saying, ‘You don’t need this. It’s too expensive. It’s not going to work.’ We don’t even know what it is yet, per se,” Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak, assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration said at an Air Force Association breakfast in Arlington, Virginia.
“It’s already starting. … They are already out there, the usual suspects that have been against every modernization, every recapitalization out there. Don’t listen to them ladies and gentlemen,” he said.
Harencak answered those who have suggested that the bomber’s mission could be carried out by other systems such as remotely piloted aircraft, or stand-off missiles.
Having spent 31 years as a bomber pilot, Harencak said he was biased. However, the need for a penetrating, long-range persistent strike capability has been a constant. “The ability to go anywhere in the world, anytime, and to get through enemy defenses and be able to provide a lot of ordnance on a consistent basis” has never disappeared, and never will, he added.
Stand-off weapons are equally important because the nation’s nuclear forces are a system of systems, he said. Nevertheless, “We have to be able to answer all potential adversaries out there and all potential scenarios,” he said.
“No one has ever been right about the next war we’re going to fight. Those who say, ‘Don’t worry. You won’t need this,’ have been wrong before. … They are wrong today. And they will be wrong in the future,” he said.
“Stand-off is absolutely important, but it has never in history been enough,” he added.
As for critics who say the Air Force won’t be able to build a bomber capable of withstanding the air defenses of the future, Harencak pointed to similar statements said before the Vietnam War and Desert Storm. Estimates on how many aircraft would be lost proved to be way too high. “Our own models showed that. And yet, we were able to do it and accomplish the mission.”
As for how the Air Force will accomplish its missions, he noted that much of the program is classified. “To our critics out there: why don’t you wait until you actually know something about it before you criticize it? I know that is asking a lot,” he said.
“It would be great if we could talk about this in a rational way, and talk about facts, as opposed to emotion,” he added.
“If we don’t make these modest and affordable investments to defend America, then we will create in the future for our children sanctuary for our enemies and our adversaries. It makes absolutely no sense to me why we would accept that outcome,” he added.
Air Force officials have repeatedly said that the program will be completed on budget with each bomber costing $550 million per copy, and a fleet of 80 to 100 aircraft. Harencak sought to quell criticism that this too, was an unrealistic goal. Pundits have pointed out that the B-2 bomber was built more than 25 years ago at a cost of some $737 million per aircraft. How could it be less expensive more than two decades later?
“It happens all the time. We are able to make things better and also have them cost less. …  We have done it with cell phones. We have done it with microwave ovens. We were able to leverage technology to give us something better and it actually costs less. And that’s what we’re going to do when it comes to the long-range strike bomber,” he said. New manufacturing techniques, for example, will help drive down the price tag, he added.
The plan to procure 132 B-2s fell well short of its goal after Congress lost faith in the program and cut the fleet off at 21. Once that economy of scale is lost and development costs are factored in, the price per aircraft skyrockets, analysts have said.
“We are going to move mountains to make sure it is affordable. We still may not get everything [in terms of requirements]. I get that, but certainly give us an opportunity to try,” he said.
To do otherwise, would mean relying on the aging B-52 bomber. His son is flying a B-52 and it is conceivable that his newly born grandson may someday.
“In what world do we send our grandchildren into combat in 80-year-old aircraft?” he asked.
“This is an easy decision. There are a lot of hard decisions we have to make out there. This is not one of them,” he said.

Topics: Aviation, Tactical Aircraft, Air Power

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