Secretary Gates likes to say DoD has a "perfect record" in predicting the conflicts in which it becomes engaged -- a perfect record of failure. Consider the Air Force's B-1B Lancer, a supersonic, swing-wing bomber built to attack a country that no longer exists with nuclear weapons it's no longer permitted to carry. Gates also likes to say that DoD needs to buy equipment it can use for many different types of missions, not just boutique weapons for highly specialized jobs. Happily for him, the Bone is a case in point -- the Air Force has given it a second life as a weapon against insurgents in Afghanistan, as David Wood ably reported here.
But starting with next year's budget, the Air Force plans to slowly begin slimming down its fleet of B-1s, cutting six across the board for a total of 60 airplanes in service. The Air Force expects this decision to save it about $357 million over the next five years, Rep. Rep. Randy Neugebauer told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday. Neugebauer -- whose district includes Dyess AFB, home of the 7th Bomb Wing -- says the blue-suiters are being penny-wise and pound foolish. The case he made to the committee exemplifies the political pickle that all lawmakers, and especially spending-averse Republicans, are in as they both try to cut back on expenditures and simultaneously protect their districts back home.
"Mr. Chairman, I know that in this new, and frankly refreshing, climate of tightening our belts around here, no program is off limits," Neugebauer said. "There are no sacred cows and programs across the board, defense and non-defense, have to justify their funding levels. I believe keeping the B-1 fully funded and maintaining the current fleet size makes the case for itself."
He went on: "As of June 2010, the B-1 has flown more than 4,500 missions over the past 5 years. During this time, the 76 B-52s and 20 B-2s sat on the bench. Additionally, the B-1 is the least expensive bomber in the fleet. As you can see in the exhibit attached to my testimony, the B-52 is 23 percent more expensive to fly per Cost Per Flying Hour (CPFH). The B-2 is 179 percent more expensive. The attached exhibit also documents the astounding cost differentials when it comes to the cost of Period Depot Maintenance. In the business community we look for “good value” for our investment. In the military, they call is “bang for the buck.”
Neugebauer didn't say so explicitly, but there was a clear message between the lines: To keep the B-1s flying, it might be worth cutting back the rest of the bomber fleet. What do you think -- should the Air Force mothball some of its B-52s, or even B-2s, to free up cash for the Bone?