The average age of heavy bombers in the Air Force fleet is now 45 years. The force has grown so decrepit that its ability to provide a credible deterrent as part of the nation’s nuclear triad is becoming doubtful. For instance, the B-52s that comprise most of the strategic bomber force not only are too vulnerable to penetrate contested airspace, but the cruise missiles they carry are also losing their ability to penetrate. Rebuilding the nuclear bomber force thus will require a number of steps, most of them now urgent. First of all, the next-generation B-21 bomber must enter the force expeditiously. Second, a stealthy successor to the existing cruise missile must be fielded. Third, the B-52s must be reengined with new turbofans in a manner that does not create unnecessary risk of delays. Fourth, the Air Force must get the KC-46 Pegasus tanker into the fleet in numbers before age-related problems ground legacy refuelers. If all of this is not well underway by 2030, the air-breathing leg of the triad will be in deep trouble. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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