No Plan for B-1 Backfill Yet

Though the Air Force has announced the withdrawal of B-1B bombers from US Central Command’s area of responsibility—where they have played a workhorse role in conducting strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in the Levant for 15 years with only temporary absences—the service has not yet decided whether or how to backfill the capability, according to USAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Lt. Gen. John Raymond at an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast speech in Arlington, Va. Raymond said the B-1s need to leave the theater because “there’s a modernization program going on with that system, and there’re readiness issues with continued deployments, as well.” He said USAF is working “very closely” with CENTCOM “to develop options as needed to meet the demands” of its commander. He later told Air Force Magazine that the B-1B “community” also needs a respite from nonstop deployments, and that “we have other things” that could do the mission, which are not necessarily bombers. He indicated that a B-52 deployment is not part of the mix of B-1B substitutes being considered. Raymond also said that while it’s true that F-22s deployed to Operation Inherent Resolve are being used “more than anticipated,” he said he’s “not aware” of any plans to accelerate a program for a successor air superiority system, postulated for the 2030 timeframe. Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hawk Carlisle has said OIR operations are consuming F-22 hours and contract maintenance at a far faster rate than programmed.