When I was a kid, I remember watching Dr. Strangelove for the first time. Being a male and having grown up in a household filled with World War I, World War II, Korea and (later) Vietnam veterans, I thought the coolest thing in the world were the scenes showing a thundering B-52 flying over the USSR and "Johnny Comes Marching Home" playing in the background [and for those of you who see this as some militaristic weirdness, rest assured, I was about 7...and I think nearly all seven year old boys think large objects that blow stuff up are pretty cool...].
When I read John Berry's Newsweek article "Bye-Bye Bomber", I was fairly shocked to see that members of the Air Force lobbying group (the Air Force Association) and Secretary of Defense Gates were both in favor of eliminating the nuclear role currently held by manned B-52 and B-2 bombers. Why? Well, in two words: Expense and "love of the Drone."
Bombers are expensive. The $2 billion or so spent on each B-2 is a
What is "the Love of the Drone." Sounds somewhat like a bee porno movie. No, this is what I call the love affair that the
Actually, there is a lot that drones cannot do. They cannot fly uninhibited into hostile territory like a manned bomber. Simply put, the nature of modern air warfare (jamming, counter jamming and so on) requires airframes that can carry a substantial load of electronic equipment. Drones, as currently built, just aren't big enough. Most are not even protected from small arms fire, from jamming, or from interference from their live-video feeds. They may be cheap, but so are smoothbore cannon. I don't see anyone saying we should replace modern field artillery with a 12 pound Napoleon from the Civil War--cheap doesn't matter when the system simply cannot get the job done. Just remember what Momma taught you..."You can get cheap or you can get good."
My biggest argument for manned nuclear bombers isn't even their multi-role capability (e.g., they can drop conventional bombs, use cruise missiles, or even drop leaflets). No, it is political.
Military planners often forget that nuclear weapons are not really "weapons" in the conventional sense. They are political tools, created and employed for political means. They are Clausewitz in concentrated form. Consequently, you have to examine the political uses of nuclear weapons before any other consideration, to include cost and ease of employment.
A manned bomber can be prepped, armed, manned and sent off an airbase in a matter of hours. In those hours, diplomats can let a potential adversary know that the
And neither land-based nor sea-based missiles can be recalled. Once launched, they are gone. The nature of submarine warfare and the security of missile sites in the
In short, it is the ICBM that is obsolete--it is a relic of the Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction. I'm all for a handful of failsafe missiles on Trident submarines; they would serve as a final deterrent. But put men and women in the airplanes, capable of making decisions, listening to orders, and able to be recalled to base when an unexpected peace breaks out.
Either that or just get rid of them all. Short of full nuclear disarmament, however, I'd prefer Slim Pickens flying in a recallable bomber than two guys in a silo in