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Commander Agrees With Decision To Delay New Bomber

By Megan Scully

CongressDaily

(Apr. 22) -The United States announced this month that it had put off plans to develop a successor to the B-2 stealth bomber, shown above (U.S. Air Force photo). (Apr. 22) -The United States announced this month that it had put off plans to develop a successor to the B-2 stealth bomber, shown above (U.S. Air Force photo).

WASHINGTON -- A senior U.S. Air Force officer charged with overseeing the nation's bomber fleet yesterday said delaying development of a long-range bomber made sense in light of upcoming nuclear-disarmament negotiations with Russia (see GSN, Oct. 25, 2007).

During a breakfast with reporters, Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, commander of the 8th Air Force, the service's bomber headquarters unit at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., said he understands the Pentagon's recent decision to hold off on pursuing the program until it negotiates changes to the 1992 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in December (see GSN, April 17).

"If the START negotiations were five years off from now, then I would say no," Elder said. "But if it's a matter of, 'Let's not lock ourselves into it for six months,' that seems to make sense."

This month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would postpone development of the bomber, which the Air Force hoped to field in 2018 while phasing out more of its older bombers. Gates announced the decision when he unveiled sweeping changes to the military's procurement plans (see GSN, April 7). He said before moving forward he wants a more thorough understanding of the need and the requirement for a new bomber, which was an outgrowth of the Defense Department's 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review.

However, he also signaled that the START negotiations would play a role in determining the program's fate.

"Before continuing with a program for a next-generation manned bomber, we should first assess the requirements and what other capabilities we might have for this mission as well as the outcome of post-START arms control negotiations," Gates said last week during a speech at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

The defense industry has been eagerly awaiting the details on the next-generation bomber, envisioned since its creation several years ago as a modern, stealthy aircraft. The B-2 stealth bomber -- the youngest aircraft in its bomber fleet -- was fielded in 1989 and features only second-generation stealth capabilities. By contrast, the F-22 Raptor fighter jet features fifth-generation stealth technologies.

Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. announced last year that they intended to collaborate on the bomber. Other defense firms, like Northrop Grumman Corp., the prime contractor on the B-2, were also expected to vie for the program. The Air Force had planned to spend at least $1.6 billion on the program by FY11, the Congressional Research Service reported last year. The aircraft's development cost could be as high as $10 billion.

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