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Former Air Force leadership weigh in on B-21

The United States faces a diverse array of security challenges around the globe, from the continued threat of terrorism, to maneuvers from rapidly advancing militaries, to existential threats from nuclear capable adversaries.  For decades, the U.S. has relied on technological superiority to secure peace and prosperity.  

Recently, however, waning resources and steady progress by potential adversaries diminish our military’s advantages.  In light of our declining advantages in this time of considerable uncertainty, we must continue to invest in key capabilities necessary to deter and defeat aggression.  Key among these capabilities is a long-range strike bomber capable of striking any target in the world.

{mosads}To that end, the Air Force is investing in a new advanced stealth bomber, the B-21, which will maintain our ability to project power anywhere in the world.  B-21 will also form an important leg of the nuclear deterrent force – the so-called “Triad.”  

B-21 is important because as our adversaries continue to field improved defense systems, our aging bomber force’s capability to project power is declining.  Today the US has fewer than 100 combat ready bombers, of which less than 20 can operate in the face of modern air defenses.  A new long-range sensor-enabled shooter force has been a national security priority for over a decade and is desperately needed to meet current and future threats.

Recently, some have raised concerns about oversight of the B-21 program, including the limited information about the program that has been publically released.  As with many other advanced technologies, details about the B-21 program have been classified to keep potential adversaries from learning key details about the program.  Despite this secrecy, Congress has conducted rigorous oversight of the program, as it does with other classified programs. 

Since 2014, the Air Force has regularly briefed key committees and Members in classified sessions on the contract structure, industry competition, requirements, and cost of this program.  In addition, the Air Force and Department of Defense have followed a exacting contracting process, including conducting multiple independent reviews prior to award.

The B-21 program must continue to receive thorough oversight, including careful review of the program’s cost and schedule.  However, such oversight should not publicly expose appropriately classified details about advanced technologies and capabilities, or delay the program.  Maintaining program funding stability is also critical.  Good acquisition practices require ensuring sufficient funding is available for program development, as inadequate budgeting can induce a spiral of schedule delays and cost growth. Cutting funding needed for development of the bomber at this early stage could paradoxically run the risk of increasing program cost—exactly the outcome we all seek to avoid.

The Air Force’s goal is to deliver B-21 on time and on cost with the capabilities needed to deter potential adversaries, a goal shared with Congress.  Achieving this goal will require mutual commitment to executing the program, including requirements stability, sufficient funding, accountable program management and appropriate oversight.  Together, the Air Force and Congress can help ensure America’s new bomber is the most affordable and effective means to discourage our adversaries and signal to the world that even in a difficult budget environment, the safety and security of US citizens will never be in doubt. 

Honorable Donald B. Rice, 17th Secretary of the Air Force; Honorable F. Whitten Peters, 19th Secretary of the Air Force; Honorable James G. Roche, 20th Secretary of the Air Force; Honorable Michael Wynne, 21st Secretary of the Air Force; Honorable Michael B. Donley, 22nd Secretary of the Air Force; General Larry D. Welch, USAF (Ret), 12th Air Force Chief of Staff; General Merrill A. McPeak, USAF (Ret), 14th Air Force Chief of Staff; General Ronald R. Fogleman, USAF (Ret), 15th Air Force Chief of Staff, General Michael E. Ryan, USAF (Ret), 16th Air Force Chief of Staff; General John P. Jumper, USAF (Ret), 17th Air Force Chief of Staff; General Norton A. Schwartz, USAF (Ret), 19th Air Force Chief of Staff.


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