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Thune Urges President to Continue Funding Next Generation Bomber

--Ellsworth Possible Home for Future Long-Range Strike Platform--

March 27, 2009

Washington, D.C. —  Senator John Thune yesterday joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues in sending a letter to President Obama calling on him to continue funding the development of the Next Generation Bomber. The Next Generation Bomber program is critical to the future of our nation's long-range strike capabilities and potentially Ellsworth Air Force Base. A news article published March 10th by Congressional Quarterly reported that the Obama Administration has given the Pentagon guidance to cancel plans for the Next Generation Bomber.

"It appears the Administration plans on raiding the defense budget to pay for the out-of-control spending habits that have come to define their governing philosophy," said Thune. "Terminating the Next Generation Bomber would be detrimental to our long-term national security."

The Air Force is currently developing the Next Generation Bomber and plans to field the platform by 2018. Ellsworth Air Force Base is a contender for the bed-down location of the platform.

"If Ellsworth is ultimately the home of the Next Generation Bomber, the base's future would be secure well into the 21st Century," added Thune. "More importantly, the future national security interests of the United States are at stake. Longer-range systems such as the Next Generation Bomber will be critical in countering future threats, especially due to the increasing age of our current bomber fleet, almost half of which dates back to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

"As the new ranking member for the Senate Armed Services Committee's Airland Subcommittee, I will continue working to ensure the Next Generation Bomber program proceeds as planned. The Next Generation Bomber, and other vital national security programs, should not be used to pay for the out-of-control spending that the Obama Administration has embraced."

Senator Thune was joined in sending the letter by Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD), David Vitter (R-LA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), and John Cornyn (R-TX).

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to urge you to retain adequate funding for the Next Generation Bomber in the Fiscal Year 2010 defense budget. A recent media report suggests that termination of the Next Generation Bomber is being proposed by your administration as the Pentagon finalizes its FY2010 budget request. We believe termination of the Next Generation Bomber would do tremendous damage to our nation's future ability to project power abroad, and runs counter to what senior defense officials in your Administration have stated about the need for a Next Generation Bomber.

As you know, the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review directed the Air Force to "develop a new land-based, penetrating long range strike capability to be fielded by 2018." The need for this new long range strike capability is urgent because, while our current wars are being fought in undefended airspace, the conflicts of the near-term future will likely feature heavily defended airspace, due in large part to the proliferation of relatively inexpensive, but extremely sophisticated and deadly air defense systems. As General Michael Maples, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, noted during a March 10, 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats, "Russia, quite frankly, is the developer of most of those [advanced air defense] systems and is exporting those systems both to China and to other countries in the world."

Nearly half of our bomber inventory pre-dates the Cuban Missile Crisis. The B-52 is a robust aircraft, but it is no longer survivable in defended airspace. While the B-1 can be upgraded, it still lacks the vital stealth technology that affords a greater level of protection in defended airspace. With only sixteen combat ready B-2 bombers currently available with vital stealth technology to hold targets deep in heavily defended airspace at risk, a decision to terminate the Next Generation Bomber would severely diminish our ability to project power on a global scale in the future. Should you decide to terminate this important program, the consequences to our national security would be grave.

Aside from our view about the urgent need for development of the Next Generation Bomber, senior officials you have selected to lead the Department of Defense have stated the need for a Next Generation Bomber. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates discussed the need for a new bomber as recently as January of this year, in an article for Foreign Affairs entitled "A Balanced Strategy," writing that the United States' ability to strike from over the horizon will be at a premium in future conflicts and "will require shifts from short-range to longer-range systems, such as the next-generation bomber." Michele Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, stated at her nomination hearing on January 15, 2009 that "I think the need for long-range precision strikes that can penetrate the most sophisticated enemy air defenses is absolutely critical."

With an aging bomber fleet that is highly vulnerable to inexpensive yet sophisticated air defense systems rapidly being acquired by potential adversaries of the United States, continued development of the Next Generation Bomber is vital to our nation's future security. As senior defense officials within your Administration have stated, the need for a Next Generation Bomber is absolutely critical. Therefore, we respectfully urge you to continue development of the Next Generation Bomber.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.