The US Air Force managed to mitigate the disruption caused by automatic sequestration budget cuts on its high-priority Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) programme, but the service has little flexibility to absorb further levies in the future.
"As we looked at the sequestration impacts to the very early phases of the Long Range Strike-Bomber, the team was able to handle that 9% or so cut within its development by kind of working around certain issues and being able to structure the programme just a little differently," Lt Gen Charles Davis, military deputy, office of the assistant secretary of the air force for acquisition, told the US Congress on 24 April.
"As it moves into some of its more important phases in the next years," he adds, "that flexibility for another levy somewhere out there would all but be gone."
Davis says the USAF needs the LRS-B to deal with ever more capable air defenses that are being fielded around the world. "We are reacting to every threat those bombers are expecting to penetrate," Davis says. "We are not leading the fight."
The current bomber fleet, including the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, is decades old and modernisation programmes are merely "just trying to match the new threats that appear on the horizon everyday", Davis says.
No new capabilities are being added even though all three bombers that are currently in the USAF inventory ¬- the B-2, Boeing B-52, and the Rockwell B-1- are expected to remain in service past 2040, he says.
Those aircraft are "just surviving", Davis says. Even a $5 billion upgrade to the service's 20-aircraft B-2 fleet does the bare minimum to keep the bomber relevant, he says.
But the LRS-B will bring new capabilities to the bomber fleet with technologies developed over the past 20 years that do not exist on existing long-range strike platforms, Davis says.
Those technologies were developed on the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35 as well as classified programmes, he says. "And that will get us to those areas of the world where we can't necessarily for a lengthy period of time today," Davis says. "It will make us be the one driving the threat reaction."