US Air Force chief’s top modernization priorities aren’t what you think they are

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force is spending tens of billions of dollars every year to buy new aircraft, including F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, KC-46 tankers, the T-7A trainer jet and more. But none of those platforms makes the list of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown’s top three modernization priorities.

“In some cases, I’m not so much enamored with airplanes, although, you know, I flew airplanes,” Brown said during a Nov. 12 interview where Defense News asked him to list his top three weapons priorities for the Air Force.

“It’s really the capability” that matters, he said. “And as we look at, you know, future conflicts, we may be fighting differently. I don’t know that for a fact. But when I came in, cyber wasn’t a thing. Now it is. Space was a benign environment. Now, not as much.


The Air Force Plans to Retrain Weapons System Officers to Be B-21 Bomber Pilots

As the U.S. Air Force prepares to bring the next-generation stealth bomber into its inventory over the next two decades, it plans to slash the number of weapons system officers by as much as half to make room for more pilots, according to a top general.

Though the service has not announced exactly how many B-21 Raiders it expects to purchase, it will no longer need as many WSOs — commonly referred to as “wizzos” — the aircrew who manage the delivery of bombs as well as intelligence-gathering sensors. It plans to retrain them to become pilots in the years ahead, according to Maj. Gen. Mark E. Weatherington, 8th Air Force commander.


U.S. Must Invest More In Its Geriatric Bomber Force

This 4th of July, Americans witnessed flyovers of our airpower. It was a far cry from the airpower displays over Washington, D.C., that I viewed as a boy on national holidays in the late 1950s. Then, dozens of B-47 bombers literally cast a shadow over the viewers. On this Fourth, only three bombers were on display­­—a B-52 built in the Kennedy years; a B-1B built during the Reagan administration; and our “newest” bomber, the B-2, over 30 years of age.

To put the current bomber deficit situation in historical context, in 1957 the Air Force had 2,334 bombers in its inventory; in 1990 it had 411; the 2021 budget plans for 140. Yes, times have changed, but arguably the security challenges for the foreseeable future are much more complex and challenging than ever before. 


Why The U.S. Needs To Invest More In Bombers

U.S. Air Force bombers represent a crucial capability needed to support the 2018 National Defense Strategy, with the range, payload, endurance, and resiliency to hold targets at risk anywhere and at any time. These long-range combat aircraft routinely deploy to both Europe and the Indo-Pacific to send a strong deterrent message to potential adversaries and reassure America?s allies. No other service or ally possesses a like capability. Accordingly, it was no surprise last year when the Air Force signaled the need to grow its bomber capacity by five squadrons.


Light-attack aircraft is the solution to the US Air Force?s dwindling fleet

America?s Air Force faces a serious challenge ? a mismatch between available capacity and demand. As Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson recently explained in congressional testimony: ?We are too small for what the nation is asking us to do.? Since the end of the Cold War, the service has grown radically smaller through a series of force-structure cuts. In 1990, the Air Force had 2,893 fighter aircraft. Today, it has just 1,755. Bombers fell from 661 to a mere 157 in the same period.

At the same time, the national security environment is growing increasingly complex, with Russia and China asserting themselves on the high end of the war-fighting spectrum. North Korea possesses nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and Iran is not far behind. Nonstate actors such as the Islamic State, al-Shabab, and al-Qaida continue to pose threats.