Bomber Numbers

The Air Force’s working goal is to buy 100 B-21 bombers, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, who noted that now’s not the right time to debate the ultimate size of the fleet. Speaking at a May 26 AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast in Arlington, Va., Welsh said Global Strike Command is “finalizing the actual beddown concept” for the B-21. “I think a lot of that will depend on what the budgets look like, what the threats look like” when the B-21 starts entering the inventory in the mid-2020s, he said. Indirectly answering whether the B-21 replaces the B-52 or is additive to it in the bomber fleet, he said, “We’ll have the same issue then as we have with the F-35 now … If we don’t replace something with it, we won’t have the manpower” to operate and maintain it. He added, “I have no idea what the right number is and neither does anybody else right now.” What USAF needs to do now is “get the program solidly on track, keep it under cost and on schedule.” When the jet is flying and ready to enter service, it will be a better time to “look at the emerging threat,” and “we’ll have a much better picture of what things will look like 10-15 years beyond that.” For now, “it’s too early” to nail down numbers, Welsh said.