Weighing In on Next Bomber

Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, as head of STRATCOM, says he needs USAF’s 2018 bomber to have two attributes. “I need it to be nuclear capable because we still expect it to be part of our nuclear defense posture in the future to have a bomber-delivered weapon,” Chilton told the Defense Writers Group yesterday in Washington, DC. “And I need it to be able to reach anywhere on the planet when it comes off of its last tanker. So range and payload, as you might expect, are big requirements for me.” The general said it still needs to be determined if all of the new bombers will be designed for the nuclear mission or only some. Today there are 76 B-52s and 20 B-2s that are nuclear capable, he said. A number in that same range likely “bounds the upper end” of nuclear-capable aircraft STRATCOM would require in the future, he said. “I don’t see us growing in that need,” he said. More analysis is also needed to ascertain the level of hardening the bombers will require to operate in a nuclear wartime environment with high levels of electro-magnetic pulse, he said.