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Video Above: B-52s, B-21s and GBSDs: The Costs and Importance of Deterrence Modernization

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

The Air Force is solidifying its bomber force structure for the future by advancing concepts of operation which prioritize and link an upgraded B-52 with the newly emerging B-21, combing a massively modernized decades old platform with a never-before-seen paradigm-changing new stealth bomber.

This is an interest mix, which suggests a number of key developments of great significance to the future of the Air Force, to include the progressive retirement of the B1-B bomber and sustained life of the much-upgraded B-2 aircraft. 

B-52 and B-21

While some enhancements are being made to the B1, such as ongoing efforts to configure its bomb bay to carry and fire hypersonic weapons, the service does plan to phase out the aircraft as sufficient numbers of B-21s arrive and the B-52 advances its ability to fire hypersonic weapons.



“The modernization efforts that are going into the B-52 are incredibly important for strategic deterrence,” Gen. Anthony Cotton, Commander of the Air Force’s Global Strike Command said in a service report. “The B-21 is a penetrating, daily flyer that we have to have, and it will be the preponderance of the bomber force as we drive down to a two tail force; it and the B-52. That’s what the United States of America is going to have as a bomber force.”

This two-fold trajectory represents an interesting dynamic for the Air Force which continues a deliberate and carefully analyzed balancing act between the need to engineer new platforms and the ability to sustain, upgrade and propel older, combat-tested platforms like the B-52.

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U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress

B-52 Stratofortress

While it may have emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, the B-52 of today is almost an entirely new and different aircraft. It was determined a bit ago that indeed the B-52 airframes remain viable despite years of service due to maintenance work, added support and the overall strength and quality of the structure itself. This has in recent years inspired the Air Force to add new CONECT digital communications for real-time intelligence, an internal weapons bay massively increasing bomb carrying and attack capability, the abiity to fire hypersonic weapons and a re-engining of the aircraft using a more fuel efficient commercial technology.

Video Above: B-52s, B-21s and GBSDs: The Costs and Importance of Deterrence Modernization


While the B-2 will eventually be replaced by the B-21 once sufficient numbers arrive, the service continues to make deliberate and extremely impactful upgrades to the B-2 bomber to help bridge the gap in the bomber force for years to come as more B-21s get produced. This effort is quite significant as it is likely to ensure that the 30yr old B-2 Spirit can remain viable and effective against a new generation of air defenses. 

While there are only 20 B-2s in the force, the upgraded platform is expected to deliver a breakthrough measure of capability and operational performance possibility. For instance, the B-2 is being engineered with a new, 1,000-times faster computer processor able to gather and analyze sensors and targeting data. This increases the crew’s ability to receive real-time processed data including an ability to respond to newly incoming intelligence information. 

The B-2 is also being engineered with new air-defense detecting sensors called Defensive Management Systems. This technology helps mitigate the extent to which new generations of air defenses are acquiring an ability to potentially track stealth to some extent by identifying the location of where enemy air defenses are. This enables the aircraft to adjust course to avoid operating within range of the weapons and therefore improve its prospects for preserving stealth characteristics and the element of surprise attack. 

Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization