B-52 Conversion Plan Still Maturing

The Defense Department is still developing the plan for converting a portion of the B-52 bomber fleet to conventional-only roles, senior defense officials told lawmakers Wednesday. “We are still working through exactly how that will be done,” said James Miller, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel. This conversion will allow the United States to exclude these B-52s—expected to be at least some 30 in number—from being counted as nuclear delivery platforms under the New START agreement with Russia and conform the US bomber force to the Obama Administration’s nuclear force posture. Testifying with Miller, Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of US Strategic Command, said officials will propose the conversion plan at some point to US treaty-compliance experts for approval. The proposal will “make it clear” that these B-52 are “not capable of carrying or delivering nuclear weapons,” he said. “We believe we have a good way to do that that still allows them to be capable for conventional missions,” Kehler added. After approval, US officials will exhibit a B-52, per the treaty’s terms, so the Russians may see the conversion. (Kehler’s prepared remarks) (Miller written statement)