Some Can Go, Some Must Stay

The Air Force will be able to retire one old B-52 bomber, 29 KC-135E tankers, and zero U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, if the House Armed Services Committee gets its way with the 2007 defense authorization bill. The panel “strongly opposes” reducing conventional long-range strike capability until a replacement is at hand. It would have the Air Force maintain “at least” 44 combat B-52s until 2018 or until a suitable replacement attains initial operational capability. On the older tanker, the panel says it is “premature” to retire 78 of the E models, as USAF requested, until the KC-X program is further along. And, the panel directs USAF to keep any E models it does retire in condition to be recalled, should they be needed again. House authorizers do not want the Air Force to retire any of its high-flying U-2s until it can prove an intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance gap identified by the Quadrennial Defense Review has been filled.