Will the Pentagon give USAF the green light to develop a new bomber? It seems like a no-brainer, since the Air Force has only 20 stealthy B-2s it can use to penetrate defended airspace. That’s probably less than 4 or 5 missions per day in wartime.
Still, nothing is certain. The USAF is trying hard to get its case heard by the OSD “tiger team” evaluating long range strike options. Word has it that PA&E and AT&L officials are leading a technically-focused review.
Air Force senior leaders seem ready to vote for nuclear capability on the bomber. As a STRATCOM official said, bombers supply the flexibility in the triad. “If we’re going to build a conventional, penetrating bomber, it’s cheap to add nuclear capability,” he added. Don’t discount the role for stand-off nuclear weapons, however.
Is nuclear capability “cheap?” Probably. It can certainly be less costly than the B-2, which was hardened beyond belief to survive flying at lower altitudes into an area where nuclear detonations had already occurred. The new bomber would most likely be a high-altitude penetrator with a nuclear capability more akin to today’s fighters like the F-16. That same decision will have to be made for the F-35, which has nuclear capability planned, but not yet funded.
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