by Stuart Ibberson, Editor
Air Force officials testified before a House Armed Forces subcommittee hearing June 8, and reported that the first two B-21 Raider bombers were complete and ready for testing.
Additionally, the subcommittee was told that the Air Force would not retire any more B-1 Lancers until the B-21 was in service.
Air Force Lt. Gen. David S. Nahom, deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs for the Air Force said, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, said the 45 remaining B-1s, after the planned 17 are retired, will be kept in service “until these units shake hands with the B-21s as they arrive. We have no intention of going below 45, because the combatant commanders need that firepower in the next five, seven, 10 years, until the B-21s start showing up in the numbers we need them.”
Rumors were the Air Force planned to retire more B-1s as the B-21 neared deployment.
The virtual hearing before the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee focused on Air Force projection forces, aviation programs and capabilities related to the fiscal 2022 budget.
Also testifying before the subcommittee were Darlene Costello, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technologies and logistics, and Air Force Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements.
Virginia Rep. Elaine Luria, D, asked if the combat needs of the Air Force will be met by the new size of the bomber force.
“Flat out, no,” said Hinote. “This is why I say, the risk in the bomber portfolio is high. We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to accelerate the B-21 capability as quickly as we can. But in the short term, the answer is no.” The decisions on whether to extend the service life of some bombers and the schedule for the B-21 “were made five, 10, 15 years ago,” under the Budget Control Act, and the decision was made to prioritize readiness over modernization, he said.
When Luria asked if the B-21 can be accelerated, Hinote said, “It’s just true that we can’t get the B-21 fast enough.”
Costello said the priority for the B-21 is “to get through the design, get completed, and not introduce concurrency” in the program.
“Once we get through design and get the first ones delivered, we can adjust production rates and maybe affect them that way, but we have to get through the engineering with solid discipline,” she said.
When asked why the design in not yet complete, Costello replied, “We have the design. There are two test aircraft built and it will take a while to get through all the testing. And therefore, there could be some changes as a result of the testing.”
Nahom said the combat capability of the 45 B-1s will be at least as good, if not better, than with the 62-airplane fleet.
By reducing the 17 most expensive to maintain and hardest-to-fix aircraft while keeping the same level of maintenance manpower until the B-21 arrives, “we think we can get the readiness level of [the B-1] actually higher,” Nahom said. “We can actually have more airplanes available for the combatant commander in the interim by getting rid of the oldest, most problem-prone aircraft in the fleet. We think that’s paying off,” he said.
The decision was made because the B-1s that are coming out of the inventory “cost more to sustain … than the benefit you get from them.” Nahom added that the Air Force “thought it was going to be more” than 17 aircraft that would be drawn down until a tail-by-tail analysis found the optimum number.
The B-21 Raider is being designed and built by Northrop Grumman at their Palmdale, Calif., facility. The Raider, slated to undergo flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., is expected to enter service by 2026-2027.