Major General William Chambers, the Air Force's assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, took to AOL Defense last week to defend the long-range strike bomber. Chambers remarked that:
Some also argue for eliminating the nuclear role of our bomber force, seeing little likelihood that they would be employed. The nuclear capable bomber remains a highly flexible deterrent critical in many potential crises. And, it is the most visible leg of the triad and therefore invaluable in demonstrating national resolve.
His focus is understandable. The Two-Star undoubtedly heard his Four-Star, then-Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz, when he told the House Armed Services Committee last year that the Air Force will delay certifying the bomber’s nuclear mission in order to reap the budget savings. Same for the comment made much more recently by the Three-Start head of Global Strike Command, Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, who seemed to imply that the Air Force may be willing to compromise the bomber’s nuclear mission altogether if the cost trade-offs become strict enough.
All of these positions are compatible. The Air Force can prefer full-speed development of the bomber’s nuclear mission even while delaying certification in response to budget pressures and possibly being willing to drop that requirement from this platform if those pressures increase significantly.
Chambers’ column serves as a reminder that the Air Force isn’t going to just concede this cut, and it’s an important additional data point about where the Air Force presently stands on offering it. The new bomber isn’t about to lose its nuclear mission. But Chamber’s column also doesn’t mean that the Air Force won’t volunteer it as the circumstances of this build-down change.