General says the US Air Force needs a lot more bombers to stand up to China and Russia

A two-ship formation of B-1B Lancers assigned to the 28th Bomb Squadron, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, release chaff and flares while maneuvering over New Mexico during a training missionA two-ship formation of B-1B Lancers assigned to the 28th Bomb Squadron, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, release chaff and flares while maneuvering over New Mexico during a training mission.U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald

  • Gen. Timothy Ray, an Air Force four-star who commands US Global Strike Command, said this week that the Air Force needs a lot more bombers to compete with America's top rivals.
  • "There are currently only 156 US strategic bombers," the general explained, according to a Department of Defense report. "But, studies have shown that between 225 and 386 are needed to get the US to the low-risk posture."
  • His comments come one year after the Air Force made the decision to increase the number of squadrons from 312 to 386 to better confront near-peer threats.
  • The US has also had trouble maintaining its bomber fleet. Only six of the service's 61 B-1B Lancers are fully mission capable.
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A US Air Force general said this week that the US needs a lot more bombers if it is going to stand up to great power rivals like China and Russia.

Speaking at the Air Force Association's Air-Space and Cyber Conference, Gen. Timothy Ray, an Air Force four-star who heads Global Strike Command, said that the number of US bombers needs to increase from 156 to at least 225, although he says the number probably actually needs to be much higher.

"The number is north of 225," Ray revealed at the conference, according to the Warrior Maven, a defense publication.

"There are currently only 156 US strategic bombers," the general explained, according to a Department of Defense news report. "But, studies have shown that between 225 and 386 are needed to get the US to the low-risk posture."

Last fall, the Air Force announced plans to increase the number of squadrons from 312 to 386, with each squadron consisting of eight to 24 planes depending on the airframe.

"The Air Force is too small for what the nation is asking us to do," former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said. "We have 312 operational squadrons today. The Air Force we need has 386 operational squadrons by 2030."

At the end of the Cold War, the Air Force had 401 squadrons, but that number shrank as the US focused its attention on the counterinsurgency fight. As the US shifts its focus back to great power competition, the service is pushing for a larger fighting force.

"Certainly," Ray said, according to Breaking Defense, "that means good growth for the bombers. "The plan would see the addition of at least five more bomber squadrons.

Under this plan, Defense News reported this week, the force size requirement for bomber aircraft is 225 planes. But, the retirement of aging bomber aircraft, even with new bombers like the B-21 coming online in a few years, is expected to keep numbers below 200.

The US has also had trouble maintaining its bomber fleet.

In July, it was revealed that while the US has a total of 61 B-1B Lancers, only six of the supersonic heavy bombers are fully mission capable, meaning that this aircraft has an abysmal readiness rate of only 11 percent.

"Unfortunately, the Air Force has been consistently under-resourced for over 20 years. As a result, the U.S. Air Force is the oldest, smallest, and least ready in the entire history of its existence," retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Warrior Maven. "We are no longer facing near-peers, but peers given the advancements in the Chinese and Russian military."

In addition to calling attention to the need for a more robust bomber force, Ray also expressed concern about other elements of the nuclear triad outside of the bomber force, noting the ages of the US Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarines that carry ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.

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