Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Bomber Won't Be Nuclear-Capable at First: USAF Chief

The U.S. Air Force's top uniformed officer said the service's new Long Range Strike bomber will be built with nuclear capability but will operate as a conventional strike aircraft initially.
Testifying before Congress on Nov. 2, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said deferring the new aircraft's nuclear certification until the B-52 and B-2 bombers start to retire would help the service manage costs.
"The reason is that we're trying to control costs," Schwartz said.
Testing for the nuclear role is much more elaborate than testing for conventional weapons.
Nonetheless, "the airplane will be dual-capable," Schwartz said.
Schwartz reiterated that the aircraft will be designed and built with all the hardware for both the nuclear and conventional missions from the outset.
"This will not be backed in later," he said.
At least for the time being, the service's Air Combat Command (ACC) is the lead command for developing the new bomber, Schwartz said. That is because ACC has the capability and expertise to build requirement.
The Global Strike Command is still not fully up to speed, Schwartz said. Eventually, however, the command might take over the program, he said.
For the nuclear mission, Schwartz appealed to the congressional committee to ask the Department of Energy to modernize and upgrade the B-61 nuclear bomb.
During the rest of his testimony, Schwartz reiterated that defense cuts beyond the current $450 billion would seriously damage the U.S. Air Force. Already, he said, the service is looking at divesting itself of "hundreds" of aircraft.
Entire fleets, including the entire logistical train, may have to be removed if further cuts are made, Schwartz said.
Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle mirrored those sentiments later in the afternoon during his testimony.
Schwartz also stressed the importance of the KC-46 tanker, F-35 fighter and the new bomber. However, this time, he added the MQ-9 Reaper to his three priority programs.
Cyberwarfare is the only area in which the Air Force or Defense Department forces might expand, Schwartz added.

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