B-52s Axed for More Raptors

Air Force chiefs want their new stealth fighters, bad — so bad, they’re willing to scrap some of their best-performing planes early, in order to free up cash for their controversial, next-generation jet.
raptor1.jpgInside Defense reports that “nearly half the B-52 bomber force and the full U-2 spy plane and F-117 stealth fighter fleets” will be retired ahead of schedule, under a Pentagon budget plan endorsed by the Air Force. It’s part of “a bid to save $16.4 $2.6 billion and boost spending” for the F-22 Raptor program.
About a year ago, a similar Pentagon “Program Budget Decision,” or PBD, cut $10 billion out of the F-22’s budget. Originally designed to duel with Soviet fighters, the Raptor seemed to be a plane without a mission; the Air Force touted the F-22 as everything from a cargo lifter to an IED-stopper. A fleet of 277 Raptors was downsized to 179 — despite a massive PR campaign from the Air Force.
This PDB, Inside Defense notes, “would allow the Air Force to inject an additional $1 billion into its prized F-22A program,” and add a grand total of four planes to the Raptor roster.

Cuts to the long-range B-52 bomber fleet would reduce the inventory from 94 aircraft to 56… The Air Force is banking on $4.6 billion in savings with this early retirement: $680 million in the procurement accounts and $3.9 billion in personnel reductions associated with a smaller B-52 fleet…
The Pentagon also plans to terminate the B-52 Stand-off Jammer System, an electronic attack capability, saving $1.1 billion across the five-year spending plan, according to the PBD.

Convincing Congress to go along won’t be easy, however.

Similar attempts in recent years — including moves to stand down B-1B bombers, KC-135E aerial refueling aircraft, and the F-117 — have met stiff resistance on Capitol Hill. But this time around, the Pentagon appears to be taking a new approach in proposing to retire three programs at once.
Now theyre going for the whole enchilada, Christopher Bolkcom, an aviation expert at the Congressional Research Service, said. You can see that they seem to be launching a frontal assault.

UPDATE 12:36 PM EST: “Privately, the Air Force sold the B-52 SOJ [stand-off jammer] on the merits of the very large antennas” that would jam the most dangerous enemy radar, Bolkcom tells Defense News. “If the B-52 is replaced with a smaller jamming platform, one may wonder how these frequencies will now be jammed, or whether the original argument for the B-52 was valid.”
UPDATE 2:42 PM EST: “Remember, this is the same Air Force that tired everything it could to retire the A-10s early,” Murdoc reminds us. “What is it about these guys that drives them to retire the most effective planes in the inventory for expensive new fighters?”

  • Me

    Well, let’s face it, despite what congress thinks, trading F-117s for F-22s does really make sense. The F-22 will have a similar ground strike capability and lower RCS than the F-117, and that isn’t even its primary mission. Congressmen prone to nostalgic attachments to existing aircraft should not be allowed to vote.

  • Sean Woods

    Well, trading the F-117 for the F-22 is a no brainer. The U-2, a unique aircraft, but most of what it does can be replaced by drones.
    But the B-52 is a completely different aircraft than the F-22. During the Iraq war we couldn’t keep enough in the air. When you need to drop a whole lot of ordinance on one point, you just can’t beat BUFF. It’s reliable. It’s sturdy. It sure ain’t glamorous, but it gets the job done.

  • TrustButVerify

    The F-22 may have a strike capability slightly bettern than the F-117, but surely we’re loosing ground when we give up the entire 49th Fighter Group (about 35 airframes) for a gain of four F-22As.
    Can anyone dispute the figures here? One F-22A demonstrably does NOT have parity with eight F-117s when it comes to stealthy strike capability. Even giving up stealthiness by hauling ordnance externally, you’re still way behind.
    Don’t even bring up the B-52 tradeoffs.

  • gerald bailey jr.

    Axing the quantity of B-52’s as reported will be a decision that the “stars” higher up will live to regret. The payload and reliability of the warhorse is unmatched in todays “electrified and computerfied” air force. They need to remember their history, or they are destined to relive it.

  • JSAllison

    “What is it about these guys that drives them to retire the most effective planes in the inventory for expensive new fighters?”
    You’re not really expecting an answer, are you?

  • Murc

    This doesn’t shock me any.
    The B-52 is very old, and its just keeps getting harder and harder to find replacement parts for it from bone yards.
    Besides…The B-1 is newer, faster, and can haul nearly twice its load.
    The U-2 should be retired because it no longer has a purpose to live, Any thing it can do the Global Hawk does better…and then some.
    And the F-117, despite having an “F” designation, it isn’t a fighter…hell, its barely a bomber, and it can only hold two 2,000 pound bombs internally and nothing externally. It was a great aircraft, but its time for retirement has indeed come.

  • TrustButVerify

    Murc,
    I just don’t see it. You’re going backwards in strike capability for an unequal gain in A2A.
    Mind you, I think it’s important that we bring out next generation fighter aircraft. This isn’t the way to do it. Here’s an idea: let’s cut every general officer’s pay 20%, and put forward a retroactive pay cut for all officers, and cut all retiree pay by 50%. THAT’ll solve everything; we can even have a bake sale like in that stupid bumper sticker.

  • AirSix

    They’ll have an interesting fight this time, though. Not only does the appropriation bill contain money for the B-52s and 117s, the authorization conference report expressly prohibits retirement of any 117s in FY06. So they can’t start until next year, by which time the fight will have been truly joined.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Morning,
    May lightening strike me down, I can’t find anything to disagree with Murc about. All his reasons for scrapping the aircraft in question seem to be valid.
    The only thing I can add is that Stealth as in the F-117 just doesn’t exist. That was shown during the Kosovo (I hate to call it a war) air exercise when an F-117 was shot down by the techonlogly advanced Serbs. A country that has put the M-98 Mauser in 7.92mm back into production.
    Since currently there are only 97 B-52’s and about 40 B-1B’s still on active flying status I think the days of the large Strategic Bomber is more or less over.
    With the X-45 and X-47’s advancing at the pace they are it would seem that the F-22 and the F-35 JSF (if it is ever built) will be the last manned Fighter/Attack aircraft built.
    The A-1 Sky Raider got us into jets and these two aircraft will ground the heros.
    ALLONS,
    Byron Skinner

  • TrustButVerify

    Skinner,
    There’s no such thing as radar invisibility for aircraft. (Properly, it’s “low observability”, anyway.) I don’t know how much you know about the F-117 downed by the Serbs but the excellent Wonderland.org.nz site (presently down for rehosting so I cannot give you a direct link) covered this several years ago. Without giving a lecture on radar cross sections and radar types, if the radar is close enough to the target you’ll eventually get a strong enough return for a shootdown. That NATO planners had their strike pacakges using the same air corridor every night. Eventually the Serbs wised up and got some SA-3s close enough to get a kill by a combination of optical cueing and luck. If the NATO air staffs hadn’t used the same corridors every night this might never have happened.
    So there you have it- that F-117 was killed more by complacent planning than anything else.
    Your point about the new LO UCAVs is a good one, but I do not think we are well served by retiring the ol’ Goblin before we have a replacement on call.
    And four F-22As don’t carry anything like the wallop of a B-52 full of JDAMs. Or a B-1. I’d prefer the Buff for reasons of economy.
    And be careful, the casual reader might mistake your post as supporting the F-22!
    (Ah, the old A-1. I wonder if even the A-10 will ever live up to the legacy of that old warhorse… Breathtaking in simplicity and effectiveness by any yardstick. Wouldn’t want it near any kind of air defense, though.)

  • Trustbutverify

    Mr. Skinner-
    I certainly agree that the X-47 (but not, it seems, the X-45) will give us a leg up in strike capability, as will the Raptor… When they’re available in sufficient numbers.
    No, sir, I don’t think stealth is dead yet. Not when you’re taking on someone with a modern air defense. You might recall that F-117s dropped the first bombs of OIF.
    As to the UHF/SHF backscatter detection method I can say that I’m aware of it as a prototype system but I don’t buy that this method was used by the Serbs. Can you provide some references here?
    The Serbian air defense commander was interviewed recently and none of the periodicals which covered it mentioned this- they all mention certain SA-3 tactics (optical guidance, radar tweaking) and the constant re-use of the air corridor as being key to the shootdown. It was posted on Strategypage, published in some aviation journals, and kicked around the message boards a bit so you shouldn’t have a problem reading it yourself.
    As a final note I’d like to point out why in my opinion we need to retain some of the systems for major theater war- North Korea, Iran, and China. And a low-observability strike capability just such a system.

  • Brian

    Axing the B-52s early may not be a bad move. They’re wonderful aircraft, but last I heard, current plans were to try and extend their lifespan out to the 2050s. At that point, the planes would be nearly a century old, older than the grandparents of the pilots who would be flying them. Cutting them now for more Raptors may be a way to ensure that we get a newer long range bomber. “Oops, no more B-52s. Guess we need a new bomber now.”

  • Brian

    What did I say, guys?
    http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,90636,00.html
    The Air Force is looking to get a fly-away bomber before 2018. They aren’t cancelling the B-52 for nothing.
    All may bow down and worship me now. Tell me you love me.

  • jerimiahuno

    Here we go again. None military politicians deciding to throw away military hardware that works so their fat cat business [lobists] can make millions on a replacement that does not work. They retired the U-2/SR-71 2 or 3 times already only to find they had to put them into servie again.

  • matt

    The B-52 is the workhorse of the bomber fleet. Our Jets are currently unchallenged, and the B-52 along with the A-10 and C-130 are the main workhorses for the AF. We have already extended its longevity. We do need a new bomber program, but the B-1 should be cut.. it NEVER works, never launches, and is muuuuch more expensive to maintain.

  • Kevin McCune

    I know its fiction, but talk to Dale Brown-Anyway the Raptor can sure help out everything else we put in the air.Navy please keep the Battleships-Kevin

  • Ryan

    We live in a sad age where rank-hungry incompetents will sell out not only our best hardware assets but personnel as well. Sad indeed. That is why I have decided to seperate from the joke we call a military. I’m sick to my stomach at the lack of fortitude, integrity, constitution and overall leadership. Shame on them.