Air-defense improvements made by potential U.S. adversaries such as Venezuela are driving a U.S. effort to develop a new strategic bomber, two top Air Force officials said yesterday (see GSN, June 14).
The Air Force has set 2018 as a target to complete the new aircraft, which could complement the current fleet of B-2 stealth bombers while replacing older B-52 and B-1 aircraft.
The new design would continue to fill the role of a nuclear weapon-delivery vehicle that long-range bombers have served since the start of the Cold War, a Northrop Grumman official said last year (see GSN, Dec. 8, 2006).
Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff Michael Moseley yesterday testified that the existing fleet of aging U.S. bombers must be upgraded.
"B-52Hs that comprise more than half our total bomber inventory and the newer,' sleeker B-1Bs (even they average more than 20 years old) do not have the ability to penetrate modern integrated air-defense systems," the two officials said in prepared testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. "They are great bomb trucks and serve today's global war on terrorism needs well, but they are not survivable platforms in contested airspace."
U.S. adversaries have acquired modern air-defense systems that threaten these older U.S. bombers, they said.
"Lest anyone think this reality is a long way off either in physical or temporal terms, Venezuela's leaders have embarked that country on a path that might deny us access to that country or its neighbors in the near future," they said, referring to reports that Caracas has struck a deal to purchase surface-to-air missiles from Russia. "Clearly, we need a new penetrating bomber with the range, payload, survivability and lethality to project our nation's power" (Greg Webb, Global Security Newswire, Oct. 25).