Last week saw the debut of the highly anticipated B-21 Raider, the first new strategic bomber in more than 30 years, as the U.S. Air Force prepares to revamp its bomber fleet.
In an email to Fox News Digital on Friday, a spokesperson confirmed that the Air Force will convert its three bomber fleet to two, including the B-21 and the modernized B-52.
The B-1 and B-2 will continue to provide capability until the Air Force deploys the B-21 Raider, which will become the backbone of its future force and gradually replace the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit bomber currently in service.
The U.S. Air Force confirmed that the first batch of modified B-52s is expected to enter the testing phase in late 2028.
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Defense News noted that Congress could also limit the Air Force’s ability to retire the B-1 and B-2 bombers.
Maj. Gen. Jason Armagost, director of strategic plans, programs and requirements for Air Force Global Strike Command, noted to Defense News that as the B-52 receives new engines, the Air Force must ensure there are no capability gaps when the bomber goes offline.
Armagost also said a number of factors could push back that timeframe, including “massive geopolitical shifts.”
Asked whether such geopolitical changes would play a role in this fleet transformation timeline, an Air Force spokesman noted that the B-21 provides a survivable, long-range, penetrating strike capability to deter Aggression and strategic attack against the United States, allies, and partners, or victory in conflict, puts any target at risk if deterrence fails.
The six Raiders that the Air Force says will be the “multipurpose backbone of a modern bomber fleet” are in production, and the Air Force plans to build 100 that can deploy nuclear or conventional bombs without requiring a human crew.
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Remarkably, while other new fighter and ship programs took decades, this bomber took just seven years from contract award to debut. It is part of a major overhaul of the nuclear triad that is estimated to cost $1.2 trillion by 2046.
Deborah Lee James, the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force, said: “We need a new bomber fit for the 21st century that will allow us to deal with more complex threats, such as our fear that one day we will face threats from China, Russian threat,” he said when the Raider contract was announced in 2015.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned earlier this month that the United States was at a critical juncture with China and needed military power to ensure American values became the global norm in the 21st century.
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“The coming years will define the terms on which we compete with the People’s Republic of China. They will shape the future of European security,” he said. “They will decide whether our children and grandchildren inherit a world of open rules and rights – or whether they face emboldened dictators who seek to rule by force and fear.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.