The creaky B-52 bomber, first flown in 1952 when stamps cost 3 cents and George W. Bush was 6 years old, will be the mainstay of the United States' long-range bomber fleet for another decade, the Pentagon has decided.Why?
Today's newer bombers -- sleek, high-tech and terrifyingly expensive -- will be largely sidelined as costly trophies, just as they are now.
The distinctive droop-winged, eight-engined B-52s cost around $61 million each, in inflation-adjusted dollars. The Air Force bought 742,NB: Today's B-52 has a lot of add-ons. Ok, fine. Double, not triple the price. You still have $183 million a copy.
The B-2 "stealth" bomber, built in the 1990s, cost $1.3 billion each in today's dollars, 22 times as much as the B-52. The Air Force could afford only 20 of them.Financial death spiral.
The numbers illustrate a serious problem for the U.S. military. Weapons systems like jet fighters and warships cost more and more. And as ever bigger budgets buy less, the forces are shrinking and aging.
The Navy, for example, has faded from 568 warships in the late 1980s to 261 today.
The Air Force has the same problem. It planned to purchase 648 F-22 supersonic stealth fighters for $152.94 million each. But costly delays pushed the price up to $338.8 million per aircraft. Now the Air Force can afford only 181 planes,..
The pressures of rising costs and advancing age of weapons is old news to veteran Pentagon hands.Too bad he lost out. Who is fighting his fight now?
"I first started clamoring about this in 1973 as a captain in the Air Force," said Chuck Spinney, who retired last year as the Pentagon's chief tactical air power analyst. "God knows I tried to make them see the problem."
The B-52 went from paper concept to flying prototype in a remarkable four years, in part because its developer, the Boeing Military Airplane Company, was left alone by the small bureaucracy of the Air Force, then only a few years old. In contrast, it took 12 years to bring the B-2 bomber into production,One final thought.
One problem is the high turnover of senior Pentagon officials. "The planning horizon of political appointees is out of whack with development cycles," said Loren Thompson, head of the Lexington Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. "Every four years you get some bright new idea that results in key programs being reshaped, and that adds to the cost."
The Air Force believes the B-52s will fly until the year 2040, when most of the fleet will be 80 years old.