Military Aviation

B-21 Will Be ‘Backbone’ of Bomber Fleet, B-52 will remain in service with a projected service life of 100 years, AFGSC Boss Says

As the B-2 and B-1 will come offline in favor of the B-21, the USAF is moving from a three-bomber fleet to a two-bomber fleet. With a projected service life of around 100 years, the B-52 will remain in service.

The Boss of Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere said on Mar. 7, 2023 that the B-21 will be the “future backbone of the bomber fleet.” The Raider is just one part of a broad effort to modernize US nuclear forces to deter China, Russia, and others, Busserie added.

As reported by Air & Space Forces Magazine, Bussiere said the US Air Force (USAF) will field a minimum of 100 B-21s as part of a long-term plan for fleet of 220 bombers. The B-21 will come in cheaper than its B-2 predecessor, which cost more than $1 billion per airframe. Bussiere said the program is exceeding expectations, and on track to meet all its cost, schedule, and performance marks.

Busserie remarked also that the USAF released new images of the B-21.

The USAF hopes the aircraft will be airborne in short order.

The B-21 Raider was unveiled to the public at a ceremony on Dec. 2, 2022 in Palmdale, Calif.

In separate remarks Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said that “The B-21 is projected to begin flight tests later this calendar year. Our goal is to get into production as quickly as possible … overlapping some testing production.”

As the B-2 Sprit and B-1 Lancer will come offline in favor of the B-21, the USAF is moving from a three-bomber fleet to a two-bomber fleet.

Bussiere said the B-21 is “on track to deliver operational aircraft to its first main operating base in the mid-2020s.”

With a projected service life of around 100 years, the B-52 will remain in service. Even though the Stratofortress was introduced in 1955, Busserie said that doesn’t make it a legacy platform. “We’re updating everything—new radar, engines, upgraded communications, and datalink capabilities,” Bussiere said. While the B-52 is not a stealth platform, its large payload makes it ideal for a wide variety of munitions, including long-range standoff missiles and hypersonic weapons.

The B-21 Raider was unveiled to the public at a ceremony on Dec. 2, 2022 in Palmdale, Calif. 

The B-21, while state-of-the-art in the 2020s, is designed to be upgraded throughout its life as well to maintain its relevance, Busserie said.

The B-21 is a long-range, highly survivable stealth bomber capable of delivering a mix of conventional and nuclear munitions. The aircraft will play a major role supporting national security objectives and assuring US allies and partners across the globe.

The B-21 is the first new bomber to be introduced since the end of the Cold War. The aircraft is designed with updated stealth qualities and mission flexibility that senior leaders in the Air Force and across the Department of Defense say are necessary to achieve the US goal of achieving integrated deterrence, and if necessary, capabilities required to successfully respond to aggression anywhere in the world at any time.

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Nor is the B-21 AFGSC’s only new system. The DOD has pledged to replace all its aging Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles one-for-one with new Sentinel ICBMs.

Bussiere cautioned that the nation faces increasing atomic threats.

“Just two weeks ago, Russia withdrew from the [New START] treaty,” Bussiere said. “That was the last vestige of arms control treaty that the United States had. We do not have an arms control treaty with China. … China and the CCP are sprinting to parity with their nuclear force—diversifying, expanding, and modernizing at a pace that we haven’t seen since the Cold War. It is the most complicated international order I’ve ever experienced in my military career.”

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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