Brent Scowcroft Center Nonresident Senior Fellow for Defense James Hasik and Program Assistant Rachel Rizzo cowrite for Defense News on the new Long Range Strike Bomber’s necessity, mission set, and cost: 

The Defense Department will imminently award the long-awaited contract for the new Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) to either Northrop Grumman or a team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. So far, though, the program has been met with a mix of skepticism and cautious enthusiasm. The secrecy surrounding the aircraft’s development may be strategically appropriate, but it makes the program difficult to analyze. Some think the US Air Force should focus on developing capabilities in new means of war-fighting, such as swarming drones, rather than invest in a new big manned bomber. At this point, however, the leadership of the Air Force and the Defense Department has decided that the LRS-B is important enough to develop and procure. Whatever the program’s details, the difficult part starts now. Policymakers must ensure they ask the right questions about the aircraft’s necessity, its mission set and its cost.

Perhaps most importantly, policymakers should ask whether the LRS-B is urgently needed. Squadrons of the new bomber will not fly until the mid-2020s. While it is true that the average age of a B-52H is 53 years, a B-1B 28 years and a B-2A 20 years, the Air Force has long been advertising that it can keep the older bombers flying until about 2040. During the Cold War, B-52s mostly waited on strip alert, and since then the wings, fuselages, engines and cockpits have all been replaced. Military action over the last 15 years has mostly involved counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, so a new penetrating bomber was always easy to delay. Today, policymakers must think hard about what war will look like in 20 years and decide whether a new bomber is the right means for fighting it.

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