Don’t Count ’Em Yet

Not committing to a new bomber platform at this point as the US embarks on a new series of military posture reviews and prepares to enter negotiations with Russia on the future size of the two nations’ nuclear forces is understandable, says Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, commander of 8th Air Force. “The point of not tying our hands for negotiations seems to make pretty good sense,” Elder told defense reporters in Washington, D.C. Elder oversees the nation’s nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 bombers and, in this post, is a leading advocate of a new bomber platform. He said he suspects that one of the factors driving Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ announcement earlier this month that the new bomber program would be delayed may be the desire not to commit to a new aircraft design until all the facts of a post-START nuclear agreement are known, such as how nuclear delivery vehicles are counted. “It makes sense to me is that what you don’t want to do is lock yourself in on an airplane until you know what the counting rules are going to be,” he said, noting that the START counting rules for the bombers have been “pretty onerous.” Elder said he continues to believe that bombers are “a signature mission of the Air Force.” When asked, he said he does not think the need for a new bomber will be challenged in the upcoming defense reviews in the same manner that Gates has questioned the merits of a new Air Force combat search and rescue platform. “I do not believe that there is any thought that the nation should abandon having a bomber force,” he said.