Armed Services chairman- America should more than double B-2 fl

Sunday, March 16, 2003

KNOB NOSTER, Mo. -- The United States' fleet of B-2 Stealth bombers should be more than doubled, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Friday.

The B-2s are battle-proven in evading radar, dropping precision-guided munitions and covering long distances nonstop, said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

"This leverage that we have -- combining stealth capability with precision munitions -- is an advantage that we should build on. It doesn't make sense to make this remarkable breakthrough in technology and not build on it," Hunter told reporters during a visit to Whiteman Air Force Base, home of the nation's 21 B-2 bombers.

Hunter's tour included visiting the cockpit of one of the bat-shaped bombers. In a luncheon speech to leaders of communities around Whiteman, Hunter called the B-2 an "instrument of freedom."

He was the guest of Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, whose district includes Whiteman. An undisclosed number of B-2s, along with a couple of hundred support personnel such as mechanics, flew out of Missouri last week for temporary shelters closer to Iraq.

Each B-2 costs about $1.3 billion.

The warplane's first combat workout came a few years ago in Kosovo, and in October 2001, a B-2 flew the longest non-stop combat mission in history -- 44 hours -- to hit targets in Afghanistan and complete a round-trip to Missouri.

"I think that you need to have at least 50 of the B-2s," Hunter told reporters after his speech.

Hunter said more B-2s are needed because the U.S. has an aging bomber fleet -- "B-52s are older now than their pilots" -- and has reduced its fleet of B-1 bombers to about 60 planes.

"We need to be able to decisively win conflicts and knock out these heavily protected targets against what has become an increasingly sophisticated air defense system," said Hunter, who assumed chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee this year.

Hunter called Skelton "my partner," saying they work without partisanship in leading the Armed Services Committee.

"I've followed Ike's lead with the B-2 bomber, trying to get this bird into the air," the Republican said of the Democrat. "Ike Skelton is a statesman."

Skelton was just a complimentary of Hunter: "We are a team and we do work quite well together."


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