A senior Air Force general made an appeal Tuesday for building a new long-range strategic bomber that he said is urgently needed to replace the aging bomber fleet.
“We need to actually have an unemotional debate about what’s going on and how we need to modernize, and how we need to protect America from its only existential threat,” Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak said during a defense industry breakfast on Capitol Hill.
“Ladies and gentlemen, bombers are as needed today as they ever were,” said Gen. Harencak, assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration.
His remarks followed the publication of a June 4 Congressional Research Service report that said some in Congress believe U.S. strategic bombers are becoming “increasingly irrelevant.”
Gen. Harencak said other legs of the nuclear triad (long-range bombers, land-based missiles and nuclear-armed submarines) also need modernizing. Minuteman III missiles, the land-based leg of the triad, is “a 1970 weapon,” he said. And strategic missile submarines also are in need of replacement.
However, the general focused most of his comments on the need to build a bomber to replace the current force of B-52s, B-1s and B-2s. The youngest bomber, the B-2, is 24 years old, and the B-52 force, first deployed in 1955, is 50 years old.
Gen. Harencak said his son, now a pilot at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, has flown the exact same B-52 that he flew early in his career, and he argued that his 6-week-old grandson could end up flying that same aircraft “because we’re told the United States Air Force will keep the B-52 flying till 2040.”
He asked whether the American people are “willing to send your grandchildren into combat in 80-year-old airplanes and send them then to the depths of the sea in 55-year-old hulls?”
“That’s what you’re telling us to do here if you don’t let us modernize, if you don’t let us build a long-range strike bomber,” Gen. Harencak said.
The comments about the need for the new bomber were made amid a defense budget crisis caused by the combination of steep Obama administration defense cuts and congressional sequestration funding cuts.
The remarks also indicate that the Air Force is battling to save production of the new long-range bomber from further delays. The Air Force hopes to field up to 100 new Long Range Strike Bombers, as the service calls the jets, by the mid-2020s. The main reason is that current bombers are increasingly at risk from air defense systems.
Gen. Harencak said the new bomber will bring “persistent, long-range strike capabilities that provide practical alternatives for global security, regional stability in all phases of combat operations.”
“It provides our president with prompt options to hold any target at risk at any point on the globe,” he added.
The most important feature of the new bomber will be its ability to penetrate increasingly capable air defenses in places like Russia, China and Iran.
SPYING IN CYBERSPACE