The forthcoming B-21 stealth bomber is causing the U.S. Air Force to reconsider its Pacific theater operations. The B-21, which can apparently “do more” than its predecessors, will allow the U.S. to “accelerate its operations in the region … and even reduce the service’s great vulnerability in a conflict with China,” according to Defense One.
B-21: The Air Force’s Newest Stealth Bomber
“[The B-21 is] going to have fantastic sensors and of course it will have lots of options for weapons to be employed as well as other effects that it can create,” General Kenneth S. Wilsbach, commander of the Pacific Air Forces, said. “The pilot-to-vehicle interface on that aircraft is a leap in capability compared to the B-2, and so the speed at which the crew can cycle through the threats and then get weapons on target is significantly faster.”
The B-21 is going to be able to operate like an “airborne data hub,” which is becoming almost a standard feature of new jets (i.e., the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter). The Air Force expects the B-21’s abilities to collect and organize data to change the way the Air Force operates. “[The] network between the B-21 formations that are out there [will be] a game-changer from the standpoint of being able to get ordnance on targets faster at a rate that the, that the enemy, whoever that might be, will have a hard time responding to in a coherent way,” Wilsbach said.
Additionally, the B-21 is expected to be able to log heavy hours, with limited downtime between operations. “The aircraft was designed to be a daily flyer,” Wilsbach said. “It’s maintenance-friendly. You can quickly repair it when it has a break and get it back up in the air and so you don’t have extended periods of time where it’s on the ground.”
Granted, Wilsbach’s projections for how the B-21 will perform are still just projections.
The B-21 is a sophisticated machine, which will be pushed hard. Sophisticated machines that are pushed hard have a tendency to break, or to not work as planned. I’m not predicting the B-21 will have significant problems, but it’s certainly a possibility; it wouldn’t be the first time a U.S. military plane had some wrinkles that needed to be smoothed out (note: that’s an epic understatement).
And Wilsbach’s projections may be backed up with flight testing performance in which the B-21 has performed admirably. Maybe he knows something we don’t. But the point is that Wilsbach’s projections are just projections until the B-21 proves itself in service.
Only part of the plan
Yet, the B-21 is only part of the U.S. Air Force’s plan to modify operations in the Pacific Theater. “The Air Force is working to move parts and technicians to more places so that they are on hand when needed,” Brigadier General Kenyon Bell told Defense One.
“So, the tyranny of distance is certainly going to come into play,” Bell said. “But our ability to be able to forward-position assets, so that if we had to go anywhere on the globe, that we would have assets available to be able to employ our weapons when we need them [eases the problem].”
To be sure, no one is as concerned about the Air Force’s new operational plans, or the unveiling of the new stealth bomber, like China.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.