Air Force Aims to Expand Bomber Fleet
Photo: Air Force
The Air Force knows it wants to expand its bomber fleet, but hasn't identified exactly what aircraft might be involved, Global Strike Command's leader said Sept. 17.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the service must grow its fleet. “The Air Force is too small for what the nation expects of us,” she said during keynote remarks at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland on Sept. 17. The service determined it should go from 312 squadrons to 386, which includes a bump of five squadrons for the bomber fleet. That is the largest by percentage out of the rest of the service’s inventory, she added.
Gen. Timothy Ray, Global Strike Command commander, said later in the day that the exact composition of those five squadrons is still being puzzled out.
“It’s not ready to be translated into tails,” he told reporters during a media roundtable at the conference. “This effort really is a back and forth with Congress.”
There are still a number of other studies that need to be conducted before he could say what those squadrons of the future would look like, he added.
Global Strike Command — which is headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana — is responsible for managing the nation’s fleet of bombers, which include the B-1, B-2 and B-52. Ray took over the command in August, replacing former commander Gen. Robin Rand, who retired Sept. 1.
The study laid out by Wilson is an “aspirational look” at how the service could be composed in the future, Ray said. Since the force structure numbers are still new, it “has not been something we have … worked towards because there is still a dialogue with Congress that has to happen,” he said.
The study is not synchronized with Global Strike Command’s bomber vector, a roadmap for its future fleet that was released earlier this year, he noted. It would be “hard to say” when that synchronization may happen, he noted.
“This is the beginning of the debate,” he said.
Nevertheless, the command knows that it has to project power, Ray said. “You can do it with enough granularity, without having to be specific to a given platform,” he said. “We know that everything we do is going to shoot long-range cruise missiles in the future and we know that we are going to have some penetrating capability.”
Ray added: “This wasn’t a conversation about, ‘What can the B-1 do? What can the B-52 do? What can the B-2 do?’ It’s a question of, broadly speaking, what do we need in terms of capabilities that the commanders out there are going to ask for?”
The B-1, B-2 and B-52 are no longer in production. The B-21 Raider, which is also known as the long-range strike bomber, is currently under development and is expected to be fielded in the mid-2020s. Northrop Grumman is under contract for the secretive program, which is being spearheaded by the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office. Wilson said the service would need to boost the squadron numbers in the 2025 to 2030 time frame.
Ray noted that he had recently met with the B-21 team and said he was confident the program was going well. “Looking at the progress that has been made, the structure of the contract and the way things are coming together, I’m very comfortable with” the program, he said without giving further details.