Can the Air Force Afford the New Bomber?

If the Pentagon holds to its current plans to chop hundreds billions of dollars from defense spending over the next decade the U.S. Air Force may need to rethink it’s acquisition plans according to Todd Harrison defense budget specialist at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an influential DC think tank.

The Defense Department is looking to shave hundreds of billions of dollars from its budgets over the coming 10-12 years; this means that all branches of the military will see pain and the Pentagon will probably have to make some tough choices in what strategic areas it wants to invest in and where to cut funding, argues Harrison.

These choices will likely mean that high-end weapons do well at the expense of things like MRAPs that are needed for COIN operations, argues Harrison.

However, the Air Force will have too many major programs under production in the 2020s to avoid cuts to its high-end weapons buys. By the early 2020s the Air Force will still be buying plenty of F-35 Lighning II Joint Strike Fighters and the KC-46A tanker will also be rolling off the assembly lines. These two expensive programs are to be joined by the services new bomber; of which the Air Force plans on buying around 100.

Here’s what Harrison said this morning on the subject at a press conference to discuss the Pentagon’s budget:

If you look at the Air Force’s projection for aircraft procurements, you see several big programs that are all, in theory, going to be in full-rate production at the same time in the 2020s. The tanker will be in full-rate production, the bomber will be ramping up to full-rate production and the JSF will still be in full-rate production. I don’t see how the Air Force can handle, budget-wise, all of those programs being at full-rate production at the same time even at current projections — even if the budget’s not cut, even if it’s allowed to grow, I don’t see how they can handle all three of those programs at the same time.

If we have substantial cuts in defense spending by 2020 then I think it is nearly impossible, unless we’re willing to make major sacrifices in other parts of the procurement budget.

So, with the F-35 and KC-46 already on contract that leaves the bomber as the odd man out. Outgoing vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen. James Cartwright is already pushing for a scaled down version of the fancy but supposedly cost-effective bomber (if not scrapping it entirely). Who knows what the next crop of Pentagon leaders will think of the recently revived program as they make budget choices in the coming years.

33 Comments on "Can the Air Force Afford the New Bomber?"

  1. I dont want to sound like a d**k, but how hard is it to put 1.2 Billion on the USAF Budget? Lets say $600 Million a pop, and you by 2 a year until you reach 100, how hard could that be? Yes, I know that is a lot of money, but when you have a $550 Billion Base Budget, $1.2 Billion is a tiny piece of the budget. I honestly thing this is military spin, and they WILL be build. Just like the USN will have 11 CSG, even with all of the "ground noise" over the past week. Smoke-and-Mirrors.

  2. Forrest Cantrell | July 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Reply

    No. They can't.

  3. well, when the PLA rolls out their first B-2 sized stealth bomber which probably will happen soon, Tea Party Republicans may see that the defense budget will have to be increased even if it means to allow substantial coldwar-level tax increases to go forward

  4. I think the question should be, does the US government think the security of the nation is worth paying for a new bomber?

  5. IMO, the bomber is a necessity. Countries like China will continue to build systems to deny access by America. It is extremely important to have the capability to penetrate advanced defense networks from long ranges. Since it is unlikely we'll be in another major counterinsurgency campaign after the Afghan war, I'm okay with cutting back on counterinsurgency equipment. We've got to invest more into long range strike systems, so it would be a bad idea to cut out the bomber.

  6. It isn't a question of need… of course we need the new bomber (unless we're going to pretend that heavy bombers haven't been a deciding factor in the last 70 years of warfare). The main issue is if Congress is going to act to get control of this insane procurement process we've let ourselves get sucked into. (Again, the answer is probably no. Not as long as the lobbyists and their money are allowed to stay in DC) The USAF has gotten itself into a situation where it's flying aircraft that are FAR beyond their service life and now there's no money to replace them.

  7. chaos0xomega | July 18, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Reply

    I don't understand why we don't just restart production on things like the B-1/B-2. Most of the R&D costs are already sunk, maybe invest a few billion more to update some of the systems for new-build versions, and restart the production line. We can have new bombers in service 'tomorrow' rather than 'next year' , without serious additional investment into new R&D, etc.

    Lets be honest, is the latest stealth tech that big of an improvement on the 'legacy' stealth of the B-2? Are we that positive that we can maintain a stealth advantage and all its associated costs in the face of advancing radar technology that would make low-rcs obsolete?

  8. Can we afford it? Nope. We can't afford most anything else either. People need to get used to the idea of cutting EVERYTHING, whether we personally agree with it or not.

  9. Spending money on a new bomber is foolish. What we need to do is get our fiscal house in order.
    If that means putting off some programs then we need to do that.
    Besides cruise missiles can do the job as well as a bomber and a whole lot cheaper.

  10. Air force must invest in new long range strike system, its vital. Because we are at the beginning of a gigantic tsunami on the world, with the problem of money in the world and maybe a futur war. The country who invest in new technology will be the winner of the world of tomorrow. Stop to say spending dollars is a problem tomorrow this new bomber will save your life. If we refuse to spend money on high tech weapon, nobody will be in security, because country like Iran, North korea or China can possess weapon who stop current airplane and attack will be impossible and after that the world will be everywhere insecure.

  11. If all they wanted was a re-warmed B2, incorporating technology developed for other programmes, then it probably would be affordable.
    But the US really can’t help itself when it comes to spending money. They’ll leap on every opportunity to make this more expensive than it need be.

  12. If all they wanted was a re-warmed B2, incorporating technology developed for other programmes, then it probably would be affordable.

    But the US really can’t help itself when it comes to spending money. They’ll leap on every opportunity to make this more expensive than it need be.

  13. Does the AF need 500 Minuteman ballistic missiles and thousands of nuclear bombs when our SSBNs are by far the best most destructive deterrent?

  14. How can the armed forces of a country with ever-growing debt whose currently is over 14 trillions can afford some giant project?

  15. We need to scrape these worthless programs like another B-2ish bomber or that dumb ICC competition both are worthless and not needed. We need to upgrade the B-2 and B-52 again. That will push both planes into the 2030-40s before wearing out.

  16. how many bombers does it take to drop a bomb? hundreds

    how many fighters does it take to go zoom zoom? hundreds

    how many golf courses does the air force need? hundreds

    how many times does the air force support the troops on the ground without whining and bitching? none

  17. The Air Force could always give the C-27J back to the Army along with Liberty program and the CV-22 program……

    He, he, he…..Good for the AF dog robbers…..
    If they want to be the fast mover service why not give the C-5, C-17's to the Army also?

  18. Cut the number of F-35s and nuclear bombs (Obama's idea).

  19. Build a new tactical cargo hauler with a reduced or low radar signature instead. The cargo plane can be used to insert and supply special forces troops without telling the world where they're hiding, it can refuel stealth aircraft in theater instead of off at a safe distance, and it could be used to drop bombs too. Really, that's just scratching the surface of what such an airplane could do. It would be a great anti-submarine platform, great for command and control, perfect for ground attack (a great AC-130 replacement), surveillance, the list goes on. We'd get a hell of a lot more bang for our buck out of a tactical airlifter than any other type of aircraft we could build. Plus airlifters aren't so sexy that they USAF is willing to sell its soul to buy one. Well, they came close to that with the C-17, but "Precious" (the F-22) made that program look like the War of the Roses. Plus a tactical airlifter would be smaller than C-17, somewhere between the C-130 and A400M.

  20. Hmm… Order twice the amount we want because we can always to expect congress to cut half?

  21. You would need like 20 F-35s to equal the amount of firepower that just 1 NGB could bring to the battlefield. Thats 20 human lives, 20 planes to need to be paid for, crews for 20 planes. So you take all that into account and ad the fact that the NGB could possibly be unmanned… Little strike fighters dont win air wars, bombers and air superiority fighters do.

  22. the airforce should be absorbed BACK into the army, ICBM's and all. as the marines to the navy.

    i mean sure…. the uniforms are cool and all but the amount of expenditure to justify its existence is pointless. Gulf War 1 is a perfect example.

  23. Martin Combs | July 19, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Reply

    My question is how would this new bomber fit into the Mission? We are flying 3 different systems..We have the B 52 and the B1.. Could the B 1 mission cover that of the BUFF? It was supposed to in the beginning..Next, what is the flight life of the B2? Can it be extended? And, will the new Bomber bring a new level of capability that will be more comprehensive? Look at the F117.. It did so much with so little..is this what the new bomber will do? These are the q's that will determine if a new bomber is worth the investment..Do we know these answers?

  24. The Russians can't find a B-2, and the Chinese can't even shoot down a B-1, so who needs another bomber.

  25. vince donadio | July 19, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Reply

    we are at the start of yet another point wear money wise a long hard look at what is truly needed over what is wanted

  26. Frankly, we don't need a new bomber when we have bombers that work now and two other components of the TRIAD that can more than pick up the slack and do it more effectively and cheaper. And we CERTAINLY don't need to put more money into bells and whostles when we talk about reducing benefits and pay for the PEOPLE who operate those same bells and whistles. We can afford cuts…and a new bomber is the perfect place to start.

  27. America needs new bombers, fighters and pilots. Why? Because of the upcoming challenges that face the next generation. If America cannot defend her skies and take the lead to the enemy then America will be overtaken and conquered. Do not settle for a robotic defence force.

  28. There is NO need for a new manned bomber or frankly for new manned fighters. These things are expensive dinosaurs. Cruise missiles and unmanned planes can do the same job, only better, cheaper and without the loss of American lives.

  29. Nothing could be more stupid than building another manned penetrating bomber. A multi tasked heavy cargo stealth platform built using the Boeing blended wing body design could fill many roles such as Cargo, passenger, bomber, and tanker. It would have extreme range and not just sit somewhere doing nothing most of the time. This is a way to really save money, and increase tasking. We don't need a dedicated aircraft that will just be a money pit.

  30. The air force can see the writing on the wall-that there future is dim.

    So their strategy is to say "we need a new bomber" while everyone with any military sense know otherwise

    The days of manned bombers and fighter is nearing it's end, it'll take another 20 years but the "pilot" will be a thing of the past rest assured.

    The bomber based leg (and the land base legs) of the TRIAD and absolutely useless and a huge waste of money, the only thing the bad guys (with nukes) fear are our SSBNs

    Because of these two facts the air force is feeling mighty insecure right now so they are desperately looking for ways to add to their self importance-hence the cry for a "new" bomber

  31. The tea party jokers need to return to their bat caves. If we are going to return to the mentality of the 1950s and buy thousands of everything the pentagon wants, taxes HAVE to go up.

  32. What we need is Supermanuervable F-15s that can beat Russian Su’s and Mig’s. Use the F-22 Raptors in stock to take out Russian S-300’s, B-52’s pound enemy and we save millions of dollars! With all that money on R&D for stealth tech, we could be mass producing other stuff.

  33. Here’s a novel idea! Why don’t we just save all the R&D costs and just let the Chinese develop something for a change? Then, we could just steal \ spy buy \ etc… the plans from them. Then we could put all our big money on productiion, and we’d still save a bundle!!! Hey, it works for the Chinese, the Russians, etc, etc, etc.!!!

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