The Ill-Defined Bomber Mission

The reason the next-generation bomber got kicked down the road—yet again—is because Defense Secretary Robert Gates “wasn’t comfortable” with how the Air Force was defining the mission and consequently, felt it was premature to establish requirements for the aircraft. So said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz at a Brookings Institution event in Washington on Friday. “It was clear the Secretary was not comfortable … with how we define what attributes this aircraft will have,” Schwartz said. He added, “There is no question in my mind that there is a need for long-range strike in our portfolio,” but that Gates wants to be further “persuaded” on what the “essential characteristics” of the next bomber should be. He said, “Certainly that’s what we intend to do, here in this upcoming cycle.” The characteristics will be some mix of stealth, speed, payload, persistence, and whether the aircraft should be manned or unmanned. Schwartz later conceded to the Daily Report that “maybe we didn’t do our best job” in explaining the mission or requirements to Gates, but he doesn’t think Gates is “sort of predisposed against long-range strike.” Schwartz said that Gates wants to know whether the platform fits into what is likely to be the next shooting war. He noted, “And, I don’t think we got it just right.”