The US Air Force looks set to retire its B-1B Lancer and B-2A Spirit fleets as the new Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider comes online. The Fiscal Year 2019 budget request will see the USAF allocating funding to upgrade its B-52H fleet under its so-called ‘Bomber Vector’, which includes the sundown of the B-1 and B-2, which were previously expected to remain in service until 2040 and 2058 respectively.
The decision-making appears to have been based on mission capable rates, cost of maintenance and spares supply chains — the B-52 has a lower operating and less complex operational cost than its stablemates.
It seems the USAF has chosen to retain the B-52 because of its versatile payload and its ability to carry the new Long-Range Standoff cruise missile. Around 75 B-52s will remain in service until at least 2050, with $22 billion package of upgrades including new engines, plus at least 100 B-21s.
The ‘Bomber Vector’ draft plan, revealed by Air Force Magazine, says the B-2 will be retired ‘no later than 2032’ and the B-1 ‘no later than 2036’.
If Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) retained all of its platforms it would have swelled to 257 aircraft, which the USAF says is unsupportable. Retiring the B-1 and B-2 will also reportedly save sufficient funds to cover the cost of base infrastructure upgrades to accomodate the B-21.
The new plan is based around a ‘force-neutral manning structure’, which means the USAF will man the B-21 squadrons with personnel coming from the B-1 and B-2 communities as they are retired, although the bomber force will grow overall from the current 157 aircraft today to at least 175.
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