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A New Era of Strategic Bombing: B-21 Raider and B-52J Stratofortress Steal the Spotlight

US Air Force budget documents reveal a decrease in expenditure on the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit strategic bombers by the end of the 2020s. The focus 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 limited human and financial resources to the B-21 Raider and B-52 Stratofortress. The service also plans to retire the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit, as these aircraft have shown limited mission effectiveness in recent years.

The Spirit fleet consists of 20 aircraft, but Global Strike Command can only utilize 14 bombers, as the others are either undergoing testing or maintenance. Additionally, the complex stealth systems require significant manpower and maintenance hours. The B-21 Raider is expected to offer improved efficiency in this aspect.

The B-1 supersonic bomber fleet has recently been reduced to 45 units. Despite this, 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 fiscal years 2024-2028 (FY) for procurement 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 displays an even steeper decline, starting at $87.6 million in FY2024 and reaching a few thousand dollars in FY2028. The majority of these funds will be allocated to avionics upgrades.

Regarding procurement funding related to the B-1 Lancer, the US Air Force is requesting $12.8 million in FY2024, $3.31 million in FY2025, $4.74 million in FY2026, and approximately $1 million in FY2027-2028. The service aims to secure $32.68 million for research and development in FY2024-2025, and a minimal amount in FY2027-2028.

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

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