OEF Anniversary Underscores Need for B-21

The 15th anniversary of the longest-ever bomber missions illustrates how important the new B-21 is to the Air Force, veterans of that effort said at a Capitol Hill forum Tuesday. Reflecting on the 70-hour B-2 missions that “knocked down the door” to establishing air dominance over Afghanistan less than a month after 9/11, retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute, said no one who participated in those opening attacks expected such an operation two months earlier. “We’re not so good at predicting” when and where American power will need to be projected, he said, and constraining the B-21 like that of the to a 20-jet B-2 fleet would needlessly “limit the potential” of the force to fight unanticipated battles. That said, Retired Brig. Gen. Jonathan George, who was the 509th Bomb Wing operations group commander at the time, said “innovative airmen” had for several years been trying to imagine the kinds of missions the B-2 would be asked to do, and had long since been practicing 50-hour and longer missions in the simulator and running real aircraft for 100 hours or more to see if “they could stand up to” the rigors of such long missions. Thus, when the opening strikes of OEF launched, such missions were old hat, he observed. Brig. Gen. Jim Dawkins, a B-2 pilot at the time who is now with the Joint Staff, said the B-2—and the new B-21—are “about providing options to the President.” Deptula asserted that at least 200 B-21s are actually needed, though USAF talks of a minimum of 100 airplanes. (See also: Sticker Shock Shouldn’t Factor in Number of LRS-Bs.)