Last Manned Aircraft?

Despite eliminating the Air Force’s next-generation bomber from the 2010 defense budget, Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged it was his personal view that “we probably do need a follow-on bomber.” But he told the Senate Armed Services Committee during May 14 testimony that much had changed since the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review directed USAF to field the NGB by 2018. And, he now believes that the outcome of the new QDR and Nuclear Posture Review may provide different insight on that bomber and will question “whether, for example, the follow-on bomber needs to have a pilot in it.” Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed, declaring, “There are those that see the JSF [F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter] as the last manned fighter—or fighter bomber or—or jet, and I’m one that’s inclined to believe that.” (The Air Force is slated to purchase the last of its 1,763 JSFs in 2034.) Mullen said, “We’re at a real time of transition here in terms of the future of aviation, and the whole issue of what’s going to be manned and what’s going to be unmanned, what’s going to be stealthy, what isn’t, how do we address these threats … it’s changing, even from 2006.”