The Air Force’s future is both moving forward and tied to the past. The bombers of the future have already been decided: they are the B-21 Raider, which is currently under development, and the venerable B-52 Stratofortress, a holdover from the Cold War, the airframes of which are older than the pilots flying them. 

The plan is already in place Lieutenant General David Nahom, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs, told to members of Congress on Thursday. The funding request is part of the Air Force’s plan to modernize its bomber fleet and prepare for the changing needs of national security, mainly conflict with near-peer adversaries.

LTG Nahom said that the Air Force’s shift to preparing for a conflict with a near-peer nation, such as China or Russia, is the driving force behind having a two-bomber fleet. Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, he said: “On the bomber fleet, there’s nothing more important to the Air Force. If you look at what the bombers bring, no one else brings it. Our joint partners don’t bring it, our coalition partners don’t bring it.”

One of the questions that lawmakers asked was why the Air Force was planning on moving away from the much newer designs of the B-1 and B-2 bombers and keeping such an old airframe as the B-52. Nahom explained that although many of the B-52s are much older in years, the flying hours on the B-52s are much lower as they frequently sat fully loaded on a tarmac, waiting for an alert or a call to go to war.