Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill said that the new bomber fleet will be heading to the 509th Bomb Wing, calling it a “vote of confidence” in Whiteman Air Force Base. Republican U.S. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (MO-04) also touted the plans for the future of the bomber fleet.

It looks like America’s bomber force will remain in mid-Missouri as the U.S. Air Force makes plans to modernize this fleet within the Fiscal Year 2019 President’s Budget Request.

The plan to replace older bombers with the new B-21 bomber at Whiteman Air Force Air Base received bipartisan support from Missouri officials.

According to a February 12 press release from the USAF, the budget request details their plan to update the B-52 Stratofortress fleet and continue modification to the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit while acquiring the new B-21 Raiders. The Raider has been under development by Northrop Grumman since a request for proposal to develop the aircraft was issued in 2014. Expected to be ready by the mid-2020s, the B-21 will be a long range, stealth bomber capable of delivering conventional or thermonuclear weapons. 

According to “Air Force Plans to Retire B-2s and B-1s in Preparation for New B-21 Raider” February 12, 2018 in Popular Mechanics, the overall plan is to purchase 100 Raiders at a total cost of $80 billion for the jets and related equipment.

The B-21 is projected to provide even greater capability with lower maintenance costs to the taxpayer, according to a press release issued February 12 by Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson visited Whiteman last year at McCaskill’s invitation. The two met with members of the 509th Bomb Wing, including B-2 pilots, to discuss firsthand the unit’s critical role in the nation’s defense.

“As part of our decisions presented in the FY19 President’s Budget, the Air Force will update the B-52 bomber fleet and fund development of replacement engines,” Wilson said in the USAF press release. “We will also continue necessary B-1 and B-2 modifications to keep them relevant until the B-21s come on line.”

As B-21s come on line, the B-1s and B-2s will be incrementally retired, the timeline dependent on the B-21 production and delivery, the release added.

The plan is, of course, subject to Congressional approval.

“If the force structure we have proposed is supported by the Congress, bases that have bombers now will have bombers in the future,” Wilson said. “They will be B-52s and B-21s.”

In her February 12 press release, McCaskill said that the new bomber fleet will be heading to the 509th Bomb Wing, calling it a “vote of confidence” in Whiteman Air Force Base. 

“Whiteman has long been home to some of the most advanced weapons technology in our country’s air defense arsenal, and today’s news means it’ll stay that way for decades to come,” said McCaskill, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. “As our military adapts in the face of changing threats from our enemies, the men and women of 509th Bomb Wing have been at the forefront, and I’m thrilled this vote of confidence in the base means they’ll soon be mastering the cutting-edge tools they need to continue to keep us safe.”

McCaskill also noted that she had discussed with Pentagon leaders the redeployment of the B-2 bomber from Whiteman to the US air base in Guam as a nuclear deterrent to North Korea.

Republican U.S. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (MO-04) also touted the plans for the future of the bomber fleet in a press release February 12.

“The plan outlined by the Air Force will continue important modernization investments for the B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers to ensure we maintain a capable bomber force until the B-21 Raider is available for delivery,” said Hartzler. “Although retirement dates have not been announced, Air Force leadership has assured me that Whiteman Air Force Base will continue to host America’s strategic bomber force for decades to come. The B-21 Raider is our future deterrent stealth bomber. This program stands at the forefront of the nation’s defense modernization efforts and will eventually build on the B-2’s legacy as the world’s most advanced long-range strike bomber: one of our adversaries’ most feared weapon systems. I look forward to continuing to work with Air Force leadership as it rebuilds readiness and works to cost-effectively modernize our force.”

The decision to maintain the B-52 is based on numerous factors including maintenance and sustainment metrics, such as aircraft availability, mission capability, supply, maintenance hours per flying hour and total cost perspectives, according to the USAF.

“With an adequate sustainment and modernization focus, including new engines, the B-52 has a projected service life through 2050, remaining a key part of the bomber enterprise well into the future,” said Gen. Robin Rand, Air Force Global Strike Command commander. 

The Air Force press release stated that its bombers are “an integral component of the nation’s strategic deterrence and global strike capabilities. The nation requires that the bomber force remain a potent and decisive asset throughout the spectrum of conflict in the modern battlespace.”

According to Northrop Grumman, “The B-21 Raider will be capable of penetrating the toughest defenses to deliver precision strikes anywhere in the world. We are providing America’s warfighters with an advanced aircraft offering a unique combination of range, payload, and survivability.”

The B-21 Raider is named after the “Doolittle Raiders” of World War II, a group of 80 volunteers in 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers who were instrumental in Pacific theater fighting and US victory.