Dyess AFB Will Get New Bomber Fleet if Trump Has His Way
ABILENE, TX — The U.S. Air Force requested of Congress to purchase more F-35 Lightning II multi-role fighters and increase funding for the advanced stealth bomber called the B-21 Raider now in development. In return, the USAF proposes retiring the B-1B lancer and B-2A Spirit aircraft once the B-21 comes online in the mid-2020s, according to Defense News in their interpretation of President Donald Trump’s FY 2019 Budget.
"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," said Secretary of the Air Force Heather A. Wilson in a statement. "We will also continue necessary B-1 and B-2 modifications to keep them relevant until the B-21s come on line."
Retiring the B-1B Lancer bomber has significant consequences for Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene.
Congressman Jodey Arrington, on a Skype call with Abilene TV station KTXS, was confident Dyess AFB will continue to play a role in the nation’s defense when the new B-21s are eventually based there.
He said he is working to make sure the federal budget includes spending for resources at Dyess AFB for “near and long term.” Long term, he said, was to prepare the base for the B-21 mission.
Arrington said that because Dyess AFB is the only initial qualification training base, or the “schoolhouse,” for the B-1B, it has the infrastructure foundations for basing the B-21 schoolhouse there too. Open airspace in west Texas, easily accessed from the runway at Dyess AFB, is another selling point, Arrington said.
The mid-2020s are a long way off in federal budget years, and for USAF policy. We’ve been here before.
In 1988, when the secretive Northrop B-2 was still in development, the U.S. Air Force planned to build 132 copies and retire the aging B-52G and B-52H aircraft fleet. By 1992, the Soviet Union fell, and the B-2 order was slashed to just 21 copies at a cost of little over $2 billion per jet. The B-2 copies were delivered to the USAF over the years from 1987 until 2000.
WATCH: The Northrop-Grumman B-2 and B-21 Bomber Super Bowl Ad (2015)
As the B-2s came online, the B-1B, affectionately called the "Bone," was taken out of the nuclear role and all "Bone" airframes still operational were converted exclusively to a conventional bombing role. Never used in the 1991 Gulf War named Desert Storm, the B-1B saw extensive use during the 1999 conventional war in Kosovo, and subsequently as a mainstay part of the bomber fleet in the recent operations in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan.
Since converting to an exclusive conventional role, and with multiple technology upgrades and new weapons, to include outfitting the bomber for a close air support role, the B-1B has had what Washington Post writer Wesley Morgan called the “long third act.”
WATCH B-1B Aircrews on the plane they fly:
Yet, despite the extensive use of the B-1B in combat, in 2010, journalist Noah Shachtman revealed that for every hour the B-1B is airborne, it requires 48.4 hours in the repair shop. There were 100 copies of the B-1B originally built. Some have crashed, some are on static display and will never fly again, and other airframes have been cannibalized to keep a small number still flying. A 2014 Air Combat Command economic impact study at Dyess stated there were 34 B-1B airframes at Dyess AFB. The only other operational B-1B base is Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, South Dakota. It doesn’t have the additional initial qualification role Dyess AFB has.
While the B-1B was maturing as a weapons system, and B-2s were coming on line, it was up to the B-52, or the BUFF, to provide the bomber component of the nuclear triad and play a lead role in conventional wars.
The B-52, first flown in 1952, was in past scheduled to retire in 2040. The proposed 2019 budget will provide the most modern version of the old bomber, the B-52H, with newer, more efficient engines. That will keep the 1952 design, with the current airframes built in 1960 and 1961, flying until 2050. The B-52Gs, or G-Models, were retired following Desert Storm in 1992.
WATCH B-52 crews:
Dyess AFB successfully transitioned from being a “Tall Tail” B-52D base to become a B-1B base in the mid-1980s. Arrington is confidant Abilene will have another transition, this time to the B-21. At least that’s in the USAF’s plans right now.
“If the force structure we have proposed is supported by the Congress, bases that have bombers now will have bombers in the future,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a press release. “They will be B-52s and B-21s.”