The Air Force should choose to quickly integrate nuclear weapons onto its future Long Range Strike Bomber rather than the F-35, if budgetary constraints force a choice, said former Chief of Staff retired Gen. Norton Schwartz. “Absent financial commitment and burden sharing [by NATO allies], I would argue that those resources now allocated for F-35 nuclear integration…should be realigned to expedite Long Range [Strike] Bomber nuclear certification,” said Schwartz during a Jan. 16 Stimson Center event in Washington D.C. The legacy F-16 and Tornado fighters, currently providing European-based deterrence, still have several years left despite their age. Buttressed by B-2 and B-52 strategic bombers, these assets could bridge the gap to a new bomber, fulfilling the US’ allied commitment. LRSB and the F-35 will likely be armed with the upgraded version of the B-61 nuclear freefall bomb, currently supplying NATO. Unlike the B-52, which relies on the stand-off Air Launched Cruise Missile to reach targets, LRSB would be a stealthy, penetrating bomber, allowing use of air-dropped bombs. As such, “B-61 life extension is necessary independent of F-35 nuclear integration,” said Schwartz. Going a step further, if forced to sacrifice ALCM replacement or B-61 modernization, Schwartz said he “would prioritize the B-61; others might not agree,” he added. “I prioritize these based on availability of delivery platforms, retirement profiles, and so on,” he explained. “I certainly would commit to the weapon that would be most useful for deterrence purposes for the Long Range Strike Bomber,” he concluded.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.