When the Air Force looks at its need for bombers across the globe, it weighs its options — not necessarily by munition or nuclear deterrent — but by readiness, the service’s top general said Tuesday.
It’s part of a larger discussion about when B-1B Lancers should be sent back into the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told reporters during a breakfast in Washington, D.C.
The B-1B, in maintenance depot since it left the Operation Inherent Resolve air war in early 2016, was replaced last April by B-52 Stratofortresses at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
The Lancer — which carries 75,000 pounds, roughly 5,000 pounds more in weapons than the B-52 — deployed the most weapons of any aircraft involved in the campaign before its departure, according to statistics provided to Air Force Times last March. It was responsible for almost 40 percent of the Air Force bombs on Islamic State targets, according to the service’s statistics.
Goldfein said the B-1s “will go back in, but we’re remaining pretty flexible on the timeline on that” because the B-52 also has a unique capability in the fight against ISIS.
“You’re just going to see a continual rotation of both of those weapons systems,” he said.
The B-52 remains a coveted aircraft, especially during operations in Mosul. The Stratofortress has the ability to stay airborne for a longer duration, has capable sensors to identify targets, and carries a wide variety of bombs “attacking everything from vehicles to large-site targets,” according to Col. Daniel Manning, deputy director of the Combined Air Operations Center.
“Frankly, we want our partners and the enemy to see the airpower [the B-52] has overhead,” Manning told Military.com in November. “A B-52 encourages our partner force that we have their back. Being seen is actually a pretty good thing.”
B-2s in Libya
But for last month’s strike on Islamic extremists in Libya, B-2 Spirit stealth bombers “were chosen because we specifically needed that particular platform for the capabilities it brought for that particular mission,” Goldfein said.
Echoing then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s remarks last month, Goldfein said most view the January strike in Libya as a B-2 strike, but forget that its journey and mission were supplemented by Air Force tankers, maintainer airmen and weapons loaders, among other “family of systems.”
The B-2s, each with a 40,000-pound payload, flew a 34-hour, round-trip mission from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and were refueled 15 times on the trip, Air Force spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder said at the time.
The U.S. last used B-2s for a strike mission in Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya to topple the regime of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Carter confirmed the latest B-2 mission cost well in excess of $11 million.