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The U.S. The Air Force has announced that it will not retire any more B-1 Lancer bombers until more of the new B-21 Raiders join the fleet June before the House Military Committee on the plan to keep the older B-1s.
Darlene Costello, the Air Force’s current head of acquisitions, reported that while the first two B-21 Raider bombers are finished and ready for testing, the program cannot be accelerated yet.
The Air Force plans to acquire at least 145 B-21 Raiders from Northrop Grumman, the cost of which is estimated at over $ 90 billion. So far, following the huge cost overruns of the F-35 fighter program, the program is on schedule and, more importantly, on budget.
LTG Nahom said that after the first 17 B-1 bombers are retired, the remaining 45 bombers will be retired will remain on duty “until these units shake hands with the B-21s upon arrival. We have no intention of going below 45 because the combatants need that firepower in the next five, seven, ten years until the B-21s show up in the numbers we need. ”
The B-21 Raider will be a huge upgrade over the 30 year old B-2 Spirit. The Raider is designed to survive against the most advanced modern air defense systems it may be exposed to. These include Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile system and China’s J-20 stealth fighter, which entered service in 2017.
“The digital trinity of digital engineering and management, agile software and open architecture is the true successor to Stealth . It’s the next big paradigm shift for military technology dominance, ”said Will Roper, former Air Force Deputy Secretary for Procurement, Technology and Logistics, in his October 2020 report There Is No Spoon: The New Digital Acquisition Reality. In the paper, Roper performed a front-end analysis that considered various concepts for fulfilling the long-range assault mission. These concepts included large aircraft with long-range stand-off weapons, conventionally armed ballistic missiles, air- and sea-launched cruise missiles, and other configurations.
The exact design of the B-21 remains a secret (the Air Force only released an artist’s rendering of the bomber) , but we know the B-21 is designed around three axes:
First, a large and flexible payload bay that can accommodate a full range of current and future armament; second, an extensive range; and third, the projected average procurement cost of $ 550 million per aircraft in US dollars for fiscal 2010. The procurement cost was publicly disclosed to encourage competing manufacturers to restrict their designs.
Members of Congress asked Air Force officials whether the Air Force would continue to withdraw the 30-year-old B-1 fleet as the B-21 evolves. “Sure, no,” replied Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy, Integration and Requirements LTG S. Clinton Hinote, dispelling such speculation.
“That’s why I say the risk in the bomber portfolio is high. We have to do better. We need to speed up the B-21 capability asap. But in the short term the answer is no, ”added Hinote. The decisions about extending the life of some bombers and the schedule for the B-21 were made « five, 10, 15 years ago » under the Budget Control Act, and the decision to prioritize readiness over modernization was made, Hinote continued .
The 17 B-1s that are being removed are the most difficult and expensive to maintain. Their removal is expected to improve the readiness of the entire fleet. “We can actually make more aircraft available to the combatant in the meantime by getting rid of the oldest, most problematic aircraft in the fleet. We think it’s paying off, ”he said.
The transition from anti-terrorism operations to competition on par with China and Russia makes the need for an updated bomber force more than ever.
The B- 21 Raider program is named in honor of the Doolittle Raiders of World War II.
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