Air Force Argument for New Bomber Bombs, Top General Says

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Marine General James “Hoss” Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just made a lot of enemies in the Air Force. Over breakfast Thursday, he made clear he finds the service’s push for a new manned bomber as a part of the U.S. nuclear triad less than convincing. “I’m known as a bomber-hater, I guess,” the nation’s No. 2 military officer — and jet-fighter pilot — said bluntly. “My concern right now with the bomber is the trend that were on — hundreds of B-52s, 100 B-1s, and 20 B-2s. So, what’s the next one? I’m worried we’re pricing ourselves out of the market.”

The bottom line is that the nation’s nuclear triad of bombers, submarine-launched missiles and land-based missiles — generally developed during the spare-no-expense days of the Cold War — are all wearing out at about the same time. “The challenge is we have to recapitalize all three legs and we don’t have the money to do it,” Cartwright say. Although we’ve known this showdown has been looming for years, Cartwright says the serious discussions about what to do about it are just beginning. When Battleland asked him if we should move to a dyad — get rid of one of the triad’s legs — he said such a decision was premature. When Battleland asked him how small the nation’s strategic nuclear arsenal had to get before a triad no longer makes sense, he didn’t have a number.

But it’s plain he’s got the next-generation bomber in his crosshairs. “If we’re going to go out and spend billions of dollars on something less than 20, then I question the investment,” he says of any future bomber. “Building five or 10 of something isn’t going to do it for us…I want to be able to think in terms of hundreds again.”

One way to keep costs down is to do away with the need for a manned bomber, something the Air Force has been reluctant to do. “Nobody has showed many anything that’s required a person in that airplane – nobody,” Cartwright says. “I’m waiting for that argument and I haven’t found it yet.

As a Marine — albeit one who commanded the nuke-centric U.S. Strategic Command before taking his current Pentagon post — Cartwright doesn’t subscribe the dogma and doctrine of the old-timers’ atomic club. “People come to me and say: `If this is one of the legs of the triad, you can’t have it unmanned,’” he says. “I say: `Gee, I don’t remember the last time I manned an ICBM or [sub-launched] SLBM or a cruise missile.’ I’m not sure I understand that logic.”