Return of the Bomber Barons: The Resurgence of Long-Range Bombardment Aviation for the Early Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

The age of the manned strategic penetrating bomber is over. Flying missions into the heart of the U.S.S.R with gravity bombs is virtually a suicide flight. But just as the Navy could not give up battleships, the Air Force refuses to recognize the end of the World War II bomber mission. If the Air Force had a ground-force mission, we would still be breeding cavalry horses.

-Senator William Proxmire (D-WI), 1976

AIR OPERATIONS SUPPORTING US and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq underscore America's continued reliance on long-range bombardment aircraft. Staging from within the continental United States, Oman, and British bases at Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford in the United Kingdom and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, B-IB, B-2B, and B-52H bombers played a crucial role in the overthrow of the Taliban government, disruption of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, and defeat of the Baathist regime in Iraq. Close air support from loitering bombers over the area of operations also proved noteworthy. Whether requested by special-operations troops on horseback in Afghanistan (with the latest in satellite-communications gear) or by intelligence assets on Baghdad street corners, the bomber force delivered precision munitions on any target, anywhere, thus demonstrating the viability, flexibility, and adaptability of the twenty-first-century Airman and long-range bombardment aviation.

Since Senator Proxmire's remarks in 1976, bombers have not faded away to the "boneyard" in Arizona but have maintained and increased their relevance. The Bush administration's National security Strategy of the United States of America (NSS), which advocates preemption rather than deterrence or response and reemphasizes the need "to protect this nation and its people against further attacks and emerging threats," means that the long-range bomber will undoubtedly play a central role in assuring the national security of the United States in the early twenty-first century and supporting what is now known as the Bush Doctrine.1

Long-Range Bombardment Aviation and the Bush Doctrine

In each of the three major military operations of the past decade-the Gulf War, Kosovo and now Afghanistan-long range strategic aircraft have progressively assumed a larger share of the operational burden, thanks to their long range, to their heavy payload and to constant improvements in precision-guided munitions (PGM).

-Giovanni de Brigand

"2001: The End of Tactical Airpower?"

As a candidate for the presidential election of 2000, George W. Bush campaigned to transform America's armed forces. During an address at the Citadel, he outlined his thoughts on military transformation: "Our forces in the next century must be agile, lethal, readily deployable, and require a minimum of logistical support. We must be able to project our power over long distances, in days and weeks, rather than months. . . . In the air, we must be able to strike from acmss the world with pinpoint accuracy with long-range aircraft and perhaps with unmanned systems" (emphasis added).2

The national security environment as espoused in the NSS of 2002 advocates a policy of preemption and "defend [ing] the peace by fighting terrorists and tyrants."3 Previous national security strategies reflected the "struggle over ideas: destructive totalitarian visions versus freedom and equality."4 This "cold war" strategy dictated a deterrent posture requiring bombers, missile-equipped submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles on hairtrigger alert. Today, however, "America is . . . threatened less by conquering states than we are failing ones. We are menaced less by fleets and armies than by catastrophic technologies in the hands of an embittered few. We must defeat these threats to our Nation, allies, and friends" (emphasis added) .5 As President Bush stressed in a congressional address shortly after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, "the only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it, and destroy it where it grows. …