...is actually an editorial that appeared in Defense News earlier this week. The title says it all:
"Build a New Bomber"
A few particularly note-worthy paragraphs:
"...of the Air Force's 5,500 aircraft, only 162 are bombers, of which only 20 are stealthy, of which only a dozen are combat ready. That is a truly puny force against any serious adversary. Worse, their average age is 33 years.
Aging planes, and the knowledge that future enemies are working feverishly to heavily defend their airspace might lead you to believe that new bombers would be a U.S. priority.
But that's unclear. Last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled the Air Force's program to field a new bomber by 2018, suggesting it wasn't ready for prime time. Gates wanted more study before buying a plane that, by virtue of its mission, would be extremely expensive."
Bomber opponents say such planes are outmoded, that penetrating formidable future air defenses will require new standoff missiles, not planes. But conventional bombers have repeatedly proven their flexibility, utility and ability to adapt to new missions. Consider the use of the B-52s flying over Iraq and Afghanistan as circling close-air-support magazines.
A bomber, on the other hand, can operate over vast distances and against sophisticated defenses to deliver large payloads with precision. It also can be recalled. It would be the centerpiece of a multi-faceted, long-range strike portfolio that would provide a visible deterrent against countries, such as China and others, that are developing systems their leaders believe will insulate them from possible attack.
Of course, the real questin is whether Robert Gates will listen to such arguments. Having killed the new bomber program last year--and with his own exit from the Pentagon already planned--it's unlikely the SecDef will reverse course. And, if you're looking for support from his boss at the White House, forget about it.
The continued decline of America's bomber fleet reminds us of another era, when our long-range strike capabilities were allowed to deteriorate, with devastating consequences for national security. Not long after the start of the hostage crisis in Iran, President Carter asked the JCS about an immediate, conventional strike against the mullahs, using Air Force bombers. Someone quickly calculated that we could instantly dispatch a couple of B-52s, supported by a significant chunk of our alert tanker force on the eastern seaboard. The idea was quickly scrapped.
Those were the bad old days, before the B-1 and B-2, when Air Force maintenance crews had to cannabalize other jets to keep mission capability rates above 50%. That's why we couldn't mount much of a short-term military response to the sacking of our embassy, and the capture of American diplomats and military personnel. Could we return to the days of a "puny" bomber force. Defense News--hardly a right-wing publication--certainly thinks so.
We'll go a step further. We're already on the fast-track to an ineffective bomber force, and Dr. Gates has certainly done his part to achieve that goal.