Photo: U.S. Air Force/Bobbie Garcia
The Air Force is hoping to get a new bomber that costs $550 million apiece, amid a time of defence spending cuts.The new B-2 would be a next-generation version of what the Air Force already has. The difference is that it’ll be undetectable to radar-equipped defenses. As a stealth bomber, it could carry out surprise bombing raids against a well-armed enemy.
The Pentagon identified China and Iran as two countries that the U.S. needs to monitor because of their growing militaries and hostile posturing towards U.S. allies, such as Taiwan, and Israel in relation to Iran. The Air Force is considering the possibility of future intervention in the form of stealthy B-2 bombing strikes.
But the Pentagon’s former director of weapons testing, Thomas Christie, told David Axe of iWatch News he thinks the Air Force could have other motives for starting an expensive aircraft program right now.
He said the service might be inflating its budget to protect itself. By securing the money for a major program, a good chunk of defence funding will be reserved for the Air Force, instead of going to the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps.
Christie points out that 10 years from now the Air Force may face a financial crisis when the trillion dollar F-35 joint strike fighter program begins full production, likely costing much more than expected. He thinks the service might be trying to boost its budget now in anticipation of difficult times ahead.
The military is implementing $487 billion in spending cuts over the next decade, while the new B-2 program is expected to cost $55 billion.
Jeff Schohol at the Air Force Times reports the Air Force says the B-2 is so critical for future missions that the program was left untouched by recently proposed budget cuts that include getting rid 9,900 airmen and hundreds of aircraft.
But the Pentagon is protective of the B-2 and points to renewed attention on Asia-Pacific and Iran.
The U.S. already has current-generation B-2 and B-52 bombers on its base in Guam to let China know it shouldn’t get too bold.
Photo: U.S. Air Force/Val Gempis
emphasising the need to project U.S. military might, the defence Department’s 21st century priorities include staying ahead of countries that actively try to counter U.S. capability. It’s pretty clear the U.S. is determined to guard the world’s balance of power.
Secretary of defence Leon Panetta says that rebalancing America’s military presence towards China and Iran is a big priority. And the Pentagon will spend as much as necessary. So the Air Force lucks out.
“The budget protects and in some cases increases our investments in these critical areas. That requires an Air Force that is able to penetrate sophisticated enemy defenses and strike over long distances,” said Panetta. “We will be funding the next-generation bomber.”
But there are sceptical critics, including members of Congress.
“We’ve got a penetrating bomber capability from the B-2s for several more decades, and we’ve got cruise missiles, we’ve got unmanned stealth strike aircraft,” said Representative Hank Johnson during a House Armed Services budget hearing last Tuesday. He was questioning Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.
“Why in the world do we need a next-generation bomber?” he challenged.
Gen. Schwartz replied the B-2s in service are capable aircraft, but their stealth technology is ” ’80s vintage,” reported the Air Force Times.
Yet those B-2s cost $3 billion each. And because they were so expensive, the Air Force prefers not to use them if necessary. It’s a twisted situation.
David Axe at iWatch News says it’s partly because few targets justify risking aircraft that cost $3 billion apiece, and partly because B-2 flights by some estimates cost $135,000 per hour — almost double that of any other military aeroplane.
So what guarantees that a next-generation model won’t meet the same under-used fate after costing billions of dollars?
For one, the new B-2 wouldn’t be expected to fly until the mid-2020s when world relations could be very different, given the rising tensions between China and its neighbours, and the same with Iran and Israel. The U.S. may very well have to deploy a new fleet of stealth bombers. The Air Force wants to make that investment now.
Secondly, the new B-2 is designed to fly in “A2/AD” environments, or Anti-Access/Area Denial airspace, where electronic warfare technology will prevent regular aircraft from being effective. The B-2 may also be a drone bomber, making it next-generation weapon that doesn’t risk losing a pilot’s life if it gets shot down.
Exact details of the new B-2 remain secret, but the Air Force is openly pushing its work on the program despite budget critics and questions of its necessity.
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