Often Overlooked and Little Understood

With discussions having commenced with Russia on further reducing the size of the US and Russian nuclear weapons arsenals, the new commander of the Air Force’s nuclear-capable B-2A and B-52H bomber force reminded lawmakers Wednesday of the continued importance of these manned bombers to the nation’s strategic deterrent. In fact, they provide the most multifaceted leg in the triad, giving the President, Defense Secretary, and combatant commanders unique options that the land-based and submarine-launched nuclear missile forces cannot, Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, commander of 8th Air Force at Barksdale AFB, La., wrote in his prepared statement for the June 3 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel. The bombers, he noted, can be positioned or placed on alert to assure allies, shape the environment, dissuade potential adversaries, complicate adversary strategy, provide the US leadership with escalation-control options, and offer alternatives to the insertion of ground forces on foreign soil. And they are the only part of the triad that can currently be used both in conventional or nuclear roles. Yet, despite this versatility, Carpenter said “the importance of our bomber force to deterrence is often overlooked and little understood.” Carpenter assumed command of 8th AF on June 1 (see below).