Abilene Reporter-News, Texas
The U.S. Air Force announced Monday that it plans to retire the B-1 and B-2 bombers in the early 2030s, bringing the successor B-21 online in a change that has direct – and positive – impact on Dyess Air Force Base, officials said.
According to Air Force Magazine, the Air Force envisions retaining all existing bomber bases, swapping out B-1 and B-2 aircraft as B-21s become available.
In addition, the Air Force plans to update its existing B-52 fleet, updating the bomber and funding development of replacement engines.
The Air Force outlined plans for its bomber fleet in its Fiscal Year 2019 President’s Budget Request.
Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson said in a statement that “if the force structure we have proposed is supported by the Congress, bases that have bombers now will have bombers in the future.”
“They will be B-52s and B-21s,” Wilson said.
The Air Force had previously planned to operate its B-1s and B-52s until 2040, and the B-2 until 2058.
Gray Bridwell, chairman of the Abilene Military Affairs Committee, said the insights released Monday are “great news for Dyess Air Force Base and Abilene.”
“By having the B-21 bomber based here, we help secure Dyess' future for a long time,” he said, calling Monday’s announcements a time “to celebrate as one community, Team Dyess.”
U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington said Wilson's statements, along with the outlined plan for the retiring the B-1 and B-2, carries an “implied message that we (Dyess) will get the B-21,” and that Dyess and Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and others would be “at the front of the line” in receiving the new bomber.
He called those implications a “great sign” for the base, but said that he was pursuing a statement from Wilson, in writing, “that says that Dyess will not only be a bomber base, not only be one of the first to retire the bombers, but be a base for the B-21 throughout the 21st century and beyond.”
Arrington said he was confident that Dyess would become a B-21 base. He met with Wilson last week and plans to meet with her this week, he said.
“They (Air Force officials) have their own concerns and objectives in terms of the competition and in terms of national security about how they roll these out,” he said. "I’m going to just encourage them in the most reasonable time frame to expedite (a) statement so that we can know definitively.”
The B-21, which the Air Force plans to start fielding in the mid-2020s, will eventually become the backbone of the U.S. strategic bomber fleet and serve as a “visible, flexible deterrent to adversaries and assure U.S. partners and allies,” according to Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Monday.
Once sufficient B-21 aircraft are operational, the B-1s and B-2s will be incrementally retired.
Delivery and retirement timelines are dependent on the B-21 production and delivery schedules.
Modifications to the B-1 and B-2 will keep those aircraft relevant until the B-21s come online.
Even with the accelerated timetable announced Monday, the transition from the B-1 to the B-21 will be gradual, Bridwell said.
“We are many years away from the first B-21s,” he said. “The Air Force has said the new weapons system should be expected in the mid-2020s.”
But he said that the opportunities for the base represented by the decisions were many.
“We have proven to be a very successful schoolhouse for the B-1,” Bridwell said, citing “exceptional” West Texas weather, close proximity to training routes, and uncongested airspace.
“Dyess is a perfect home to the B-21 and (a) potential B-21 training facility,” he said.
“Abilene looks forward to having Dyess continue to be a B-1 base until this highly-capable bomber is retired,” Bridwell said.
The Air Force is eyeing a bomber fleet of roughly 175 aircraft, retiring the younger B-1s and B-2s earlier than planned while extending its B-52 aircraft to 90 years of service.
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 Air Force.
Substantial military construction funds will be needed to accommodate the new aircraft, the magazine reported.
The younger bombers would be retired earlier than the older B-52s because the Air Force believes it must live with a bomber manpower footprint not much larger than it is now, meaning the new B-21 must replace, and not be additive to, much of the existing bomber fleet, Air Force magazine reported.
Dyess is presently home to the 7th Bomb Wing, made up of the 7th Operations Group, the 7th Mission Support Group, the 7th Maintenance Group,and the 7th Medical Group. It is also home to the 317th Airlift Wing, a C-130J mission.
The 7th Operations Group is the operational flying component of the United States Air Force 7th Bomb Wing, responsible for executing global conventional bombing.
It is the largest B-1B operations group, comprised of 33 B-1s and 1,140 people assigned to four squadrons - 9th and 28th Bomb Squadrons, 7th Operations Support Squadron.
At the end of Desert Storm in 1991, the nation had 290 total bombers, said Gen. Robin Rand, who commands the Air Force Global Strike Command, in a news release.
That force has now dropped to 157 at five bomb wings and 15 total force bomb squadrons, representing a 46 percent decrease – even with continued combat operations and bomber rotations, Rand said.
©2018 the Abilene Reporter-News (Abilene, Texas)