Selling LRS-B Will Be Tough

The Air Force has its work cut out for it in getting Congress to fund the Long-Range Strike Bomber, according to panelists at a Tuesday AFA Mitchell Institute discussion about the new jet in Arlington, Va. Mackenzie Eaglen, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said for one thing, “Congress doesn’t perceive it and doesn’t believe it” when the Air Force touts the proliferation of anti-access, area denial threats as driving the need for the new bomber. Members of Congress see only that the US has confronted enemies with anemic or no air defenses for 20 years, and believe that US airpower remains unrivaled. For another, the Air Force’s stated need for 80-100 LRS-Bs comes off as “squishy,” she said; the range indicating the number is soft and that no hard analysis has been done on the requirement. Congress will automatically fund to the lower number, when the real requirement is likely to be around 174, she predicted. Setting a cost cap on the bomber also is like the Air Force “tying one hand behind its back” if the aircraft needs a dramatic increase in capability. Moreover, such caps invariably get broken, undermining the credibility of the service. “The Air Force budget is not equipped to handle this program,” Eaglen asserted, predicting the LRS-B “will be in competition with the F-35 forever” for procurement dollars, and, given the secrecy of the program—which so far has ruled out naming subcontractors or affected congressional districts—it will lose against better-mobilized constituencies.