A B-52 Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer, and B-2 Spirit sit beside one another on the flightline at Andersen AFB, Guam, Aug.10, 2016, marking the first time in history all three of Air Force Global Strike Command's strategic bomber aircraft are simultaneously conducting operations in the US Pacific Command area of operations. Air Force photo by TSgt. Richard Ebensberger.
Global Strike Command chief Gen. Robin Rand emphasized that while the “floor” of the requirement for the B-21 bomber is 100 aircraft, the eventual number is likely to be higher, but there’s no need to set that level now.
In a press conference at ASC17 Tuesday, Rand said the Air Force is “too small for the amount of mission we have.” The figure of 100 is “what we’ve agreed to,” but that number “will be reassessed as we start procuring and delivering these airplanes.” Well before there’s any winding-down of production, “we will have an opportunity to reassess” whether the USAF should “continue to go beyond that,” but he declined to be more specific.
Rand said “there’s a lot of mission out there,” especially with B-1 and B-52 continuous bomber presence missions in the Pacific and in the anti-ISIS fight, but he acknowledged that at the moment he’s not oversubscribed. In fact, he said that due to improved scheduling and utilization, European and African Commands are actually getting “more support than they were a year ago.”
US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa commander Gen. Tod Wolters said the command anticipates rotating “a bomber force from the US to the UK every quarter for the next several years,” noting all bomber variants will be involved in the rotations.
That said, bomber crews have a “busy” life, with a dwell ratio of 15 months home to six months deployed, and during those six months “home,” they are deploying to exercises such as Red Flag, and other away-from-home temporary assignments. More study is needed on the number of bombers and people required for the long range strike mission, he said, adding that a “Bomber Vector” (Roadmap) is coming soon, and “a lot of factors go into that.”
While Rand would not talk much about the Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) missile, he said, “We direly need it” because of the age of the AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile. “We need to replace” the ALCM, he said, adding in his dealings with Capitol Hill, “every indicator I’ve had” suggests “that there seems to be strong bipartisan support from the committees” overseeing defense, and “DOD support is there” for the LRSO. With the Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction contracts in place, “I’m convinced we’re on a good footing with it.”