The U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) has announced a proposal to retire 17 B-1B Lancer supersonic strategic bombers in the fiscal 2021 budget request.
Currently, a portion of the B-1Bs are in a state that will require tens of millions of dollars per aircraft to get back to a status quo fleet in the short term until the new B-21 Raider stealth bomber comes online. As such, Air Force officials proposed the retirement of 17 structurally deficient B-1Bs in 2021 so that maintenance dollars and manpower can be focused on the healthiest aircraft in the fleet.
According to AFGSC, continuous bomber support operations over the last 20 years have taken a toll on the airframe’s structure due to overuse in a manner not commensurate with its planned design.
The Air Force has now changed various flight employment tactics of the remaining B-1Bs to preserve the longevity of the aircraft. The service claims that these changes will significantly extend the life of the B-1B and reduce costs associated with potential structural repairs during the transition to the B-21.
The Air Force is not planning to close any B-1B squadrons, reduce major manpower pools or close any bomber bases due to the potential fleet cut. The reduction of B-1s from Ellsworth Air Force Base (9 B-1Bs) and Dyess Air Force Base (8 B-1Bs) will be spread across both units.
In addition, the Air Force will maintain adequate B-1B capability through a heavy B-52 test period and initial B-21 buildup.
“This is the start of the B-1B retirement which has been planned for some time but sped up on the most deficient aircraft in the fleet”, AFGSC statement read.
With the 2021 budget rollout, major modernization programs within AFGSC continue to be funded. This includes:
• B-21 funding remains on track.
• The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program will ramp-up funding to execute the first full fiscal year of the engineering and manufacturing development contract and advance major activities, including: systems engineering, information technology, data management and analytical capabilities.
• The B-52 Stratofortress bomber is executing a comprehensive modernization, to include increased weapons capacity, upgrades to communication systems, and replacement of engines and radar system; funding to integrate Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) capability, which provides survivable, high bandwidth, and secure two-way command and control communications. Radar modernization and engine replacement are the two largest programs.
• The Air Force continues to execute a comprehensive B-2 Spirit stealth bomber modernization and sustainment program including armament upgrades, communications upgrades, and low-observable signature and supportability modifications and is committed to keeping the B-2 viable, sustainable and affordable until B-21 is operational.
• The FY21 PB fully funds the Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) weapon developmental program. LRSO, a nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), is currently on track and has the same five-year profile as it did in last year’s budget.
• The funding profile for the B-61 thermonuclear gravity bomb remains the same as last year.