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Airborne's Annual April 1st Episode

Sat, Aug 05, 2006

New Long-Range Bomber Slated For Duty In 2018

Will Shore Up B-52, B-1 Fleet

Air Force Chief Of Staff General T. Michael Moseley dropped something of a bombshell in a recent speech before the Armed Services Committee... regarding the US Air Force's next long-range bomber. reports Moseley revealed the Air Combat Command is conduction a study researching aircraft platforms and weapons improvements... in an effort to determine the best path for a new long-range strike capability for the future USAF. Those goals won't be met by the current, aging fleet of B-52 Stratofortresses (many of which have been flying for over 50 years, above) and B-1B Lancers (relative youngsters, but still 20+ years old.)

The consensus? The Air Force will need a new bomber, capable of knocking out ground targets ahead of its mission.

"We refer to it as, 'Kick down the door,'" said Lt. Col. Tony Siler, ACC chief of the (aptly named) Ground Dominance Capability Team. "Taking down a portion of the enemy's air defense is the initial part of air warfare."

That is a capability current bombers lack, said Colonel Siler. For all their considerable capabilities, the B-52 and B-1 (below) still rely on escort fighters to clear the way into hostile territory. Fuel efficiency, stealth capabilities and longer range are also key considerations, Siler added.

The news of a new bomber comes as the USAF and other armed forces are thinning their ranks, facing tighter and tighter operating budgets. So... is this the best time to be talking about a new, expensive aircraft?

Not surprisingly, Siler and others say yes -- for while the current bomber fleet meets America's present needs, by 2018 many believe those planes will be severely outdated.

And what about those who believe the concept of long-range bombers is obsolete, in this age of long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles? Well, consider this -- during Operation Iraqi Freedom, bombers delivered two-thirds of the total Air Force tonnage while flying roughly five percent of all Air Force strike sorties, Colonel Shorb said.



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