Birthing the Bomber

Pentagon officials are still fleshing out the new Air Force bomber in the weeks before the Defense Department issues its Fiscal 2012 budget proposal, said Air Force Secretary Michael Donley Wednesday. Speaking at an Air Force Association-sponsored Air Force Breakfast Series event in Arlington, Va., Donley said USAF has satisfied Defense Secretary Robert Gates “that we were ready to establish a program of record. We’re currently in the process of committing that to paper.” (Gates last week blessed the bomber project.) Donley said DOD officials are still deciding “how much we’re going to talk about the capabilities of this future aircraft” publicly, and how much will remain secret, but he promised more details when the budget is released. For the first time, Donley noted, an Air Force bomber will be designed with conventional missions in mind, but with the flexibility to take on a nuclear role later on. “We will build a nuclear capability in, but not assume right off the bat that it’s going into a nuclear mission early,” he said. The aircraft will be built in quantities “sufficient to support the long-term sustainment of bomber capabilities” after USAF’s B-1 and B-52 fleets are retired, he said. That’s supposed to happen in the 2040s.