Rebalancing toward Asia, a cornerstone of the administration’s strategy, implicates the military’s ability to strike over long distances, and that in turn draws attention to air and naval power projection. It thus should come as no shock that Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Holmes* believes that:
The B-1's [penetrating bomber] capabilities are particularly well-suited to the vast distances and unique challenges of the Pacific region, and we'll continue to invest in, and rely on, the B-1 in support of the focus on the Pacific directed in the president's new strategic guidance.
Looking back over recent history, though, makes this statement a bit more surprising. Just last year, as part of its FY2012 budget request, the Air Force proposed retiring 6 B-1 bombers (see pg. 50). That decision put it squarely at odds with Representatives like Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) and Kristi Noem (R-SD), whose districts includes the B-1 jets of Dyess and Ellsworth Air Force Bases.
The result was a compromise: the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (see §132) permitted the retirement of 6 B-1s, but only after the Air Force provides “a modernization plan for sustaining the remaining B-1 bomber aircraft through at least calendar year 2022.” In other words, statute now commits the Air Force to no additional retirements in the near term.
As we observe the B-1 program over the next decade, it’s important to bear in mind that the Air Force may “continue to invest in, and rely on, the B-1” for more reasons than just strategy.
*Holmes is assistant deputy Air Force chief of staff for Operations, Plans and Requirements.