So Stealthy It’s Not There

Although Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he’s only postponed the Air Force’s next-generation bomber, it is “zeroed out” for 2010, deputy Air Force budget director Patricia Zarodkiewicz told reporters at a Pentagon briefing Thursday. No placeholder money is in the procurement or R&D budgets. Gates has said he wants more clarity on the NGB program—a position criticized by some defense analysts and lawmakers, who cite the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review and a decade of study. As recently as last year, the Next Generation Bomber was expected to be a $5 billion R&D effort. The budget does contain $500 million to continue upgrading and operating the existing bomber fleet, mainly with new radars and communications gear. There’s another $173 million to keep 76 B-52s available as nuclear platforms. However, USAF officials could not immediately say whether there’s any money for upgrade, service life extension, or replacement of the AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile or AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile, which only the B-52 carries and without which it has no nuclear mission. The Air Force announced a heavy drawdown of both missile inventories two years ago.