Members of Congress Voice Bipartisan Support for Long-Range Bomber
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed strong support for the Air Force's new long-range bomber program during a Capitol Hill briefing on Sept. 10, although one warned that cost overruns would not be tolerated.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she supported the bomber program, but it could not be a repeat of the F-35 joint strike fighter program with its "exploding costs, exploding timelines [and] expenses far exceeding initial projections."
"While I am fully supportive, I will absolutely be breathing down the neck of the Department of Defense as they manage this program," she said. "If we are expected to stand the line, politically, to support these programs, it's incredibly important that they're run well, that they're on time and that they're on budget."
Currently, the Pentagon plans to buy 80 to 100 long-range bombers at an estimated cost of $550 million per aircraft. The new bomber will replace the aging fleet of B-52 and B-1, and eventually B-2 bombers. The average age of those aircraft are 53, 28 and 20 years, respectively, according to a report titled, "Beyond the 'Bomber: The New Long-Range Sensor-Shooter Aircraft and the United States National Security."
Members of Congress at the briefing lined up to endorse the program, which was organized by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, publisher of the report.
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said today "we have an air superiority that nobody else has got." However, "If we don’t have air superiority, if we don't have a capability of long-range strike and of air defense that nobody else can match … if we start moving to a point of parity with anybody else, then our ability to maintain and control, in a conventional setting, the types of wars that are being fought goes out the window," he said.
Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said he intends to work closely with both House and Senate lawmakers to ensure the successful acquisition of the next-generation bomber.
The United States faces numerous global threats including Russian aggression in Ukraine, the collapse of Middle Eastern nations to radical jihadists, nuclear weapons testing and missile development in North Korea and Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, Fleming noted. "The United States can ill afford to neglect its role in the world for projecting power when needed, reassuring our allies and being ready to combat adversaries," he said.
Fleming added that versatile aircraft like the long-range strike bomber give military leaders a wide range of options for managing crises and controlling escalation when dealing with nuclear actors.
The lawmakers agreed that the new bomber would be essential in maintaining the confidence of allies as well as deterring foes.
"I think sometimes those who want to diminish the importance of funding our military, think that these investments are about a desire to go to war, and they misinterpret the deterrent effect that a long-range bomber has," McCaskill said.
She noted an incident in 2013 when the United States sent two B-2 stealth bombers to South Korea as a display of support for its allies while sending a message to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to halt military provocations in the area. "A B-2 went over and said, 'Hello,' and things calmed down," McCaskill said.
The technological advantages of the weapon system are another reason why the new bomber is an important capability, she noted.
The long-range strike bomber represents the ability to maintain U.S. Air Force superiority, McCaskill said. "That's particularly important with technology, and the technology of the new long-range bomber is going to be obviously far advanced from even … the B-2."
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute and author of the report, said cost overruns are, in part, caused by poor decision-making by high-ranking officials.
"If they don't want the costs to balloon, then don't cut the frapping systems," Deptula said. He pointed to decisions made by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as a reason why costs for programs like the B-2 bomber and F-22 were over-inflated.
"Secretary Gates got up on stage at [an Air Force Association conference] a couple of years ago and said, 'We can't repeat a $2 billion bomber,' ... [but] that was not the design unit cost of the aircraft. If you had procured the 132 of them that you had originally designed, you would have ended up with less than $500 million a copy," Deptula said.
Similarly, production of the F-22 was terminated at less than half of its military requirement, which played a role in cost issues, he added. "To terminate F-22 at less than half its military requirement — when it is down to its lowest unit production cost and we're spitting them off the line with zero defects — wasn't just a stupid requirements decision, it was a stupid economics decision," he said. "This increased cost stuff falls right on the role of the policy decisions that are made in the context of the aircraft."