MINOT AIR FORCE BASE – Minot Air Force Base and its B-52 bombers have a long future ahead, according to top Air Force officials.
The Air Force announced Monday its plans for the future of the bomber force in its fiscal year 2019 President's budget request.
"If the force structure we have proposed is supported by the Congress, bases that have bombers now will have bombers in the future. They will be B-52s and B-21s," said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.
The Air Force plans to begin retiring the B-1 and B-2 bombers as soon as enough B-21s, the next-generation bombers, are built. Plans are to start fielding the B-21s in the mid-2020s.
Commander of Air Force Global Strike Command Gen. Robin Rand said replacing the B-52 engines will allow the Air Force to fly B-52s through 2050.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said Tuesday she welcomed the U.S. Air Force's announcement that the president's budget includes B-52 modernization funding, including support for new engine development.
Monday's budget request includes $280 million for B-52 modernization, more than double the current level of funding and a clear indication of the priority placed on this program.
"While I have many concerns with the president's budget, one bright spot is the Air Force's commitment to keeping B-52s flying out of Minot for decades to come, which is a win for the Minot military community, the North Dakota economy, and our national security," said Heitkamp in a news release.
"With modernization funding, we will improve the aircraft's range, extend its lifespan, and reduce long-term maintenance costs. During the development of the next generation of bombers, our B-52s must be ready to fly at a moment's notice to fight terrorism abroad and deter our adversaries from taking aggressive action," Heitkamp said.
There are 75 B-52s in the Air Force inventory, said Carla Pampe, a spokeswoman for Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. She said 26 are assigned to Minot AFB, two at Edwards AFB, Calif., and the remaining 47 B-52s are spread between the active duty and reserves at Barksdale.
Minot AFB is the only base with dual nuclear-capable wings. The 5th Bomb Wing has the B-52 bombers. The 91st Missile Wing has the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in underground facilities in several counties.
Land-based ICBMs, strategic bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles are the three legs of the nuclear triad.
On the bomb wing side at Minot AFB, the base has two B-52 squadrons – the 23rd Bomb Squadron and the 69th Bomb Squadron. Their mission takes them worldwide.
Currently, B-52s and personnel with the 69th Bomb Squadron are deployed to the Middle East in the fight against ISIS.
While in the Middle East, the Minot AFB B-52s became the first B-52s in the U.S. Air Force to employ the conventional rotary launcher upgrade in combat operations. The upgrade enables a bomber to carry eight additional smart munitions inside its bomb bay, in addition to those that are carried on the wings, according to Air Force information.
Bombers and personnel with the 69th will remain in the Middle East until the April timeframe.
B-52s and personnel from the 23rd Bomb Squadron were in the Middle East for six months prior to the 69th going there. They returned to Minot AFB in September 2017.
Last month about 300 airmen and four B-52 bombers along with support equipment deployed from Minot AFB to Royal Air Force Fairford in England where they took part in training with joint partners, allied nations and other U.S. Air Force units. They returned to the Minot base later in the month.
Minot AFB units and B-52s normally have rotated with Barksdale as part of Air Force's Continuous Bomber Presence in the Pacific but are not participating at the present time due to the Middle East deployments.
The Air Force is looking ahead to the future of the Minuteman ICBM program as well. This past year it awarded contracts to Boeing and Northrop Grumman to develop the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, the next generation ICBM for the U.S. Air Force.