Defense procurement is like the tides. Waves of reform are followed by waves of profligacy. Repeat, war infinitum. Take the Next-Generation Bomber, for example. We were just getting used to it, even calling it, almost affectionately, the ”Next-Gen Bomber” when the Air Force pronounced it dead two years ago.
But – surprise! – it has returned, a apparent Lazarus of air power. And it’s not even very stealthy – everyone seems to be talking about it. Only this time it’s dubbed the long-range strike bomber. Despite the different name, its mission sounds familiar. “I’ll tell you why we need a bomber,” General Norty Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said recently over breakfast:
Do you think that the Chinese have established one of the world’s best air defense environments in their eastern provinces just to invest their national treasure? Or for that matter that the Iranians have established integrated air defenses around certain locations in their country? I would say they’re not doing this for the fun of it. They’re doing it because they have a sense of vulnerability. I ask you, what is it that conveys that sense of vulnerability to others? One of those things is long-range strike, and that is an asset that the United States of America should not concede. That’s why a long-range strike bomber is relevant and will continue to be relevant.
The general may have point. But check out reporter David Axe’s piece over at the Center for Public Integrity for a different assessment on the wisdom of buying a new bomber.