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Welsh: Air Force will resist ‘requirements drift’ in new bomber

WASHINGTON (AFNS) --

The Air Force’s long-range strike bomber program continues to ramp up, and senior leaders are determined that the platform will come in on budget and on time, the service’s top officer told the Defense Writers Group today.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III told the group that any change to the requirements for the long-range strike bomber program must go through him.

“And I don’t intend to approve anything until I am absolutely convinced that it makes sense to change the requirement,” he added.

The bomber program is needed, Welsh said, noting that the newest B-52 Stratofortress entered the Air Force fleet in the early 1960s. The last B-1B Lancer bomber was delivered to the Air Force in 1988, and the last B-2 Spirit stealth bomber entered the inventory in 2000.

“The important thing is we need a bomber fleet in case -- God forbid -- we have to conduct a large-scale campaign,” Welsh said. “We need a sufficiently sized bomber fleet to do that.”

Current plans call for the new aircraft to enter the inventory in 10 years. The Air Force is spending $440 million on the program this year, but that cost will rise to $1 billion next year. This increase enables the Air Force to plan how to integrate the bomber and its systems, Welsh said.

The aircraft’s operational capabilities will remain secret.

“Cost is an independent variable on this playing field, because we have to field this platform,” Welsh said.

At a cost of $550 million per aircraft, he added, “we can field a meaningful platform that will be effective in the future warfight.”

The bomber will not feature a leap in technology, the general said, but it’s going to be a very capable machine.

“What we don’t want to do is reach into some level of technology that is impractical,” he added. “That’s where prices start getting out of control.”

The Air Force must resist “requirements drift,” Welsh said, and it will not keep adding to the requirements base for a platform without proven technology.

“We are not going to go there,” he told reporters.

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