August 10, 2001 | Executive Memorandum on National Security and Defense
As part of an ongoing effort to upgrade and strengthen U.S. national defense, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently proposed a plan that would reduce the size of an outdated B-1B bomber force by one-third, consolidate the remaining fleet in two bases (closing three bases that have fewer than 10 planes each), and upgrade the remaining B-1Bs with savings produced by these moves. This plan is necessary to meet the current strategic requirements of the U.S. armed forces. It will upgrade the capacities of a fleet that is now technologically inadequate and eliminate costly inefficiencies. When completed, the plan will ensure that the United States has the necessary aircraft to meet its near-term requirements by providing the U.S. Air Force with 60 highly capable long-range strike aircraft.
Despite generating savings of $165 million in 2002 and total projected savings that are as high as $1.5 billion, Secretary Rumsfeld's request quickly drew fire from Members of Congress, especially those whose constituencies would be directly affected by the base consolidation. The House Armed Services Committee passed an amendment to the 2002 defense authorization bill that would prevent these reductions from taking place. Those who oppose streamlining and upgrading the B-1B force may be yielding to considerations that are short-sighted and parochial, even though it is clearly in the interests of America's national security to move forward with the plan.
and Modernizing the B-1B Force Is the Right Thing to Do
While the current B-1B fleet is inadequate to fulfill its role, it is neither financially realistic nor strategically necessary to replace the entire fleet with modern B-2s or next-generation long-range bombers. An option that is both affordable and prudent would be to modernize a portion of the B-1B force, introduce additional B-2s, and begin work to develop a bomber with even greater capability. Reducing the current B-1B force by one-third and reinvesting that money in the remaining force is necessary because:
As currently deployed, the B-1B has to fly very near its targets to deliver its ordinance, and its radar jamming capabilities are not very effective in shielding the plane from an enemy's radar. This inadequacy has crucial consequences in light of the worldwide proliferation of highly advanced air-defenses, as evidenced by Serbia's hit of an F-117 during the 1999 Kosovo campaign and Iraq's continual harassment of allied fighters over the United Nations-imposed no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq.
One of the upgrades to the B-1B will give it more advanced radar jamming capabilities. In addition, a modernized B-1B force will be able to carry a full array of modern weaponry, including long-range missiles that give it the capacity to strike from far distances, as the B-52 can. The ability to deliver its ordinance from afar will allow the bomber to return to its base for reloading and return to combat more quickly. Thus, fewer bombers will be required to deliver the same amount of ordinance.
American leadership now faces the tremendous challenge of accomplishing a transition from forces that were appropriate during the Cold War era to those that will provide adequate defense for the nation in a dangerous and unpredictable future. The controversy over the Administration's plan to consolidate and modernize the B-1B fleet indicates that this endeavor will involve many difficult and controversial decisions. Though it is but one step in a long journey, streamlining and upgrading the U.S. B-1B fleet will provide capabilities vital to the effectiveness of our current defenses. This is a prerequisite for developing a new generation of capabilities that will enable the U.S. armed forces to maintain America's position as a global power far into the future.
Jack Spencer is Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.