When a fleet of B-2 Spirit bombers arrived in Knob Noster, Missouri, Dec. 17, 1993, life at Whiteman Air Foce Base changed substantially. Life may be changing again at Whiteman AFB as a new generation of bombers was announced recently.
Whiteman is the only operational base for the iconic B-2 bombers, which boast a range of 6,000 miles; a payload of over 40,000 pounds; and a maximum flying altitude of 50,000 feet. Northrup-Grumman, an aerospace manufacturer who manufactured the B-2, public fact sheet states the bomber was produced between 1988 and 1997. Therefore, many feel that the B-2 – as well as the nation’s entire bomber fleet – is long overdue for an upgrade.
“After several decades of relative neglect, the Air Force’s bomber fleet is now the smallest and oldest it has ever been,” U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said in a news release. “Overall, our bombers have an average age of 39 years – older than most of their pilots.”
In an effort to modernize, the Air Force has announced a next-generation bomber: the B-21 Raider. The B-21, also produced by Northrup-Grumman, is expected to be a long-range strike bomber that will serve an essential role in air defense.
“It is a must-have capability,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh in a press release.
The new bomber is planned to replace the B-52 Stratofortess, which was produced between 1952 and 1962, as well as the B-1B Lancer from 1985. As more B-21 bombers are produced the B-1 and B-2 bombers will be retired incrementally, according to Northrup-Grumman.
Northrup-Grumman claims a production and deployment schedule is currently classified. However, the Air Force expects B-21 Raiders will see action as soon as the mid-2020s, according to the release.
Lieutenant Allen Palmer, a public affairs representative at Whiteman AFB, stated that basing decisions are ongoing and will be announced once a decision has been reached. Palmer added that they expect little impact to basing, as evidenced by a quote from Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force.
“If the force structure we have proposed is supported by Congress, bases that have bombers now will have bombers in the future,” said Wilson in a press release for an outlined request for the bomber fleet for the Fiscal Year 2019 President’s Budget Plan.