Keeping an Eye Out for New Bomber

In the just-passed Senate version of the 2010 defense policy bill, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) included language that would preserve the Next Generation Bomber, a program also on the Administration hit list. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told the Air Force it did not define the NGB program very well and wants more analysis of requirements, but some defense analysts and former officers say the so-called 2018 bomber has been studied to death. Thune and other bomber proponents in their defense of the program invoked the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review which directed USAF to develop the NGB by 2018, but, in justifying its termination, the Obama Administration said that despite the QDR, it believes “the existing fleet of 173 bombers will be able to meet expected threats.” As Thune’s language in the policy bill points out, “The only air-breathing strike platforms the United States possesses today with reach and survivability to have a chance of successfully executing missions more than 1,000 nautical miles into enemy territory from the last air-to-air refueling are 16 combat ready B-2 bomber aircraft.” (The bulk of the bomber force comprises nearly 50-year-old B-52s.) In a July 24 statement, Thune called adoption of his amendment on the new bomber “a step toward preserving this important long-range strike capability.”