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A Shift in Priorities: The Future of US Strategic Bombers: B-21 Raider and B-52J Stratofortress

US Air Force budget documents indicate a decrease in expenditures on the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit strategic bombers by the end of the 2020s. The focus of the service is shifting towards the next-generation B-21 Raider nuclear bomber and the B-52H Stratofortress, which will be designated as the B-52J following an upgrade.

Here’s What We Know For years, Global Strike Command has expressed its intention to allocate its limited human and financial resources to the B-21 Raider and B-52 Stratofortress. Additionally, the service plans to retire the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit, as their mission effectiveness has been relatively low in recent years.

The Spirit fleet consists of 20 aircraft, but Global Strike Command can currently utilize only 14 bombers. The remainder are either undergoing testing or maintenance. Moreover, the maintenance of stealth systems is complex and requires a significant amount of manpower. The B-21 Raider is expected to be much more efficient in this aspect.

The B-1 supersonic bomber fleet has recently been reduced to 45 units. Despite the reduction, the US Air Force has decided to retain funding and expertise to enhance the capabilities of these strategic aircraft.

The service has requested $284.9 million from the US Congress for the fiscal years 2024-2028 (FY) for purchases related to the B-2 Spirit. The funding will commence at $107.9 million in FY2024 and gradually decrease to $57.16 million in FY2025. By FY2028, it will significantly drop to $15.78 million.

The funding for research, development, testing, and evaluation for the B-2 Spirit demonstrates an even steeper decline, starting at $87.6 million in FY2024 and reaching only a few thousand dollars by FY2028. Most of the funds will be allocated to avionics upgrades.

Regarding procurement funding associated with the B-1 Lancer, the US Air Force is seeking $12.8 million in FY2024, $3.31 million in FY2025, $4.74 million in FY2026, and approximately $1 million in FY2027-2028. The service is also requesting $32.68 million for research and development in FY2024-2025, with only a small allocation in FY2027-2028.

The B-1 will also be equipped to carry new weapon systems. The US Air Force has discontinued Lockheed Martin’s Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) program due to failed tests. Instead, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman are working on a hypersonic missile under the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM) program.

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