14
December 2023
Past Event
Senator Mike Rounds on the B-21 Bomber and Its Deterrence Mission

Event will also air live on this page.

 

Inquiries: mdewitt@hudson.org

Senator Mike Rounds on the B-21 Bomber and Its Deterrence Mission

Past Event
Hudson Institute
December 14, 2023
A B-21 Raider. (Northrop Grumman)
Caption
A B-21 Raider. (Northrop Grumman)
14
December 2023
Past Event

Event will also air live on this page.

 

Inquiries: mdewitt@hudson.org

Speakers:
heinrichs
Rebeccah L. Heinrichs

Senior Fellow and Director, Keystone Defense Initiative

.
Senator Mike Rounds

US Senator, South Dakota

The B‑21 Raider, America’s next-generation stealth bomber, made its first test flight this November. As the fleet becomes operational, the first squadron of B‑21s will make Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, South Dakota, its home. Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota has been a leading advocate for the B-21 program, conveying its centrality to the United States’ twenty-first-century deterrence mission.

Hudson Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Keystone Defense Initiative Rebeccah Heinrichs will host Sen. Rounds to discuss where things stand with the production of the B-21, the number of B-21 bombers US policymakers should seek to purchase, and how the B-21 can help to deter China and Russia simultaneously. 

Ms. Heinrichs recently commissioned and edited a report on the B-21 Raider, America’s B-21 Raiders: Deterring and Assuring in the New Cold War.

Event Transcript

This transcription is automatically generated and edited lightly for accuracy. Please excuse any errors.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Good morning. Welcome to this event at Hudson Institute. Thank you all for joining us in person and for those of you who are watching online. My name is Rebeccah Heinrichs. Im a senior fellow here at Hudson, and Im also the director of our Keystone Defense Initiative. I am privileged to have with me today Senator Mike Rounds.

Senator Mike Rounds was sworn into the United States Senate on January 6, 2015. The Senator serves on five committees, Armed Services, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Indian Affairs, Veterans Affairs, and Select Committee on Intelligence. He is really qualified to speak to us today on the topic of our conversation, which is the B-21 Raider. And Hudson, I just conducted a study on the B-21, and several experts across the think-tank world contributed their analysis on what the B-21 Raider will be able to provide the country, its various characteristics and attributes, especially in the two nuclear peer power problem. And so today were going to talk about the B-21. And Senator, were so happy to have you here. If you wouldnt mind just providing a few opening remarks about how you see the threat, to the extent that you can talk about it, and then well get into the B-21.

Mike Rounds:

Great, thank you. Appreciate the opportunity. Let me begin with a broader brush of what I see happening right now and what were going to see over the next several decades.

It used to be that we fought in the air, on the land, in and under the sea. Now we add to that cyber and space as additional domains. So when you add all of that up together, you have to be able to win in every single domain. Were working really hard to maintain and to be competitive with two near-peer competitors, both Russia and China. We should never ever count out Russia. They are nuclear capable. They have very good cyber capabilities. And very good space capabilities. China has developed, very rapidly, their space capabilities, their cyber capabilities. They have perhaps the largest land-based missile system in the world and they continue to grow it. They have a very strong nuclear capability as well.

Today in the United States, we have always, at least most recently, we have been focused on being able to deter an opponent. Now we have two separate opponents that we have to deter at the same time. If you were either one of those two opponents, Russia or China, and if the United States was entering into a conflict with the other, there is no reason that there wouldnt be at least a consideration of taking advantage of our attention being placed someplace else. We have to assume that if we have a problem with one of those two near-peer competitors, we will also have a problem with the other at basically the same time. The B-21 fits into this because you have to have a nuclear-capable system that can enter into and hold them at risk inside their homeland. That gets their attention.

Today, we have space-based capabilities to be able to see, but in the time of a conflict, thats probably going to go away, the same as we would try to take away their capabilities. Cyber, there is not going to be a conflict in the future without first having a cyber warning in basically the impact of a cyber attack on us. We will be doing the same to either one of those adversaries as well. Then you get back down to what do you actually have for a hammer? What do you actually have that reaches out? Today we have old B-52s. We have B-1s that are worn out. We have 20 B-2s that were developed in the 1980s.

At some stage of the game, Xi Jinping or Mr. Putin, either one, are going to look at this and say, “Do they really have the capabilities or are they a paper tiger? Do we really have to fear these weapon systems or have our capabilities to respond to those offensive capabilities?” Are the defensive capabilities that have been built by both Russia and China, are they capable of standing an attack by us? Should we actually, and I think from their perspective theyre going to question, “Should this actually deter us from moving forward with our long-term goals?”

When the B-21 enters the picture, this whole scenario changes. The B-21 is an aircraft that has been designed to be the most stealthy that the world has ever seen. They do not have today the defensive capabilities to defend against it. It has long-range capabilities, which starts to take care of the problem that we have in the Pacific, in that today we dont have the ability necessarily to get all the way into China with our most advanced weapon systems and to take out some of their critical infrastructure, their defensive capabilities, and their offensive capabilities. With the advent of the B-21, they have long-range to begin with. They have the ability to be refueled. They have the ability to loiter in the area and the ability to carry not just nuclear weapons, but also conventional weapons as well.

This is a marvelous game-changer for the United States. Today were talking about purchasing 100 of them. Thats a down payment only. There is no way that we can look at challenging or at least being able to deter both Russia and China unless we substantially increase the number of B-21s that were looking at purchasing. Now, I like the idea that we start with 100. During that time period Northrop Grumman and the other contractors be refining their ability to actually create these on a more rapid basis, a streamlined basis, as efficiently as possible. Each tranche will allow for the development of new capabilities to be included and new weapon systems to be added to this badass weapon of both war and peace. Our goal is peace, but in order to achieve that peace, we have to have a hammer that basically says, “Dont mess with us,” and that if you do, the consequences are severe.

As long as both China and Russia recognize that we do have that capability and that they do not have the capability to defend against it, it really makes them think twice about some of their more aggressive postures that otherwise they will continue to pursue. For our allies, the fact that we have a B-21 which is coming online, that can loiter, that can be in place, that can move across the Pacific fairly rapidly, and can reach both Russia and China, that gives our allies more confidence that we really are in this and that we are an ally that they can rely on. That I think in essence is a major part of the reason why I am a very strong supporter for the continued development of the B-21 program.

But let me just finish with one other thought. We are 33 trillion dollars in debt. The cost to our country right now, with the additional costs that are just for the cost of financing that debt going up, to the point where we are very close in just interest payments on the debt being equal to or very close to what we are actually paying for our defensive protections right now? Thats going to get worse before it gets better.

But in the meantime, as we start talking about being in debt by trillions of dollars, perhaps the most expensive thing that could ever happen to us, one of the most expensive things that could ever happen to us, is if we actually had to fight a war instead of deterring a war. The most expensive thing that we should try to avoid is losing a war. So in that order, the least expensive of all of those options is to prepare in advance for what is a likely scenario, which would be a confrontation with two near-peer competitors. The most important hammer that we have to develop is the B-21. Lets get that on board. Lets get it deployed. Lets get it set up for all of the different options that it can be used for. And then move forward with doing everything else we can to deter the possibility of actually entering into a war. But if it does happen, to be able to win the war and not lose the war.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Senator, thank you so much. And actually, I served as one of the Congressionally appointed commissioners on the Bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission, and we just finished and produced our report and one of our findings and recommendations was exactly what you just said, which is that were going to need more B-21s for the two nuclear peer challenge to be able to deter both of those countries simultaneously. And so very much your comments resonate with me very much, and there is bipartisan consensus on that point and appreciate your leadership, sir.

If I can just get back to a really important point you made about the Russia problem and that Russia still, it poses a challenge for the United States, its a serious nuclear threat, so even as we get this news about how well Ukrainians have done at degrading the Russian military in Ukraine, that Russia still poses an acute serious problem for the United States because it still is determined to undo the US system of alliances in Europe and abroad. Anything else you can expand on that and how that relates to Ukraine? Because I think its an important piece of the puzzle as we think about deterrence.

Mike Rounds:

No, youre right. Look, lets never forget about Russia. First of all, they have lots of people. They can bring up lots of people to actually go to war. Second of all, they have manufacturing capabilities that they are just beginning to once again tap with regard to creating the conventional weapon systems that theyre losing in Ukraine right now. So this giant, and it is a giant of a country, they have been reawakened. And they will begin the process of rebuilding their conventional forces. They learned how lousy their army was. They learned how lousy their air force was. The corruption, the inability to maintain it, and so forth? That hit them hard. Theyre not going to make that mistake again. Theyre going to come back into it and theyre going to start rebuilding. They will not have the technical capabilities that we necessarily have, but theyre going to come very, very close.

With regard to nuclear capabilities, they are a nuclear weapons system. They have advanced nuclear weapons. They have a leadership team that has seriously considered the use of tactical nuclear weapons as a way to deter in Europe. And look, of all the folks out there, they would be probably in my opinion the first to actually use a tactical nuclear weapon, other than the rogue states of Iran and North Korea. Russia should not be discounted. They do have a good background in science and tech-

Mike Rounds:

They do have a good background in science and technology, and they will continue to develop advanced systems as we do. And in space they are very capable yet, they have resources in space. And while China is continuing to develop and is moving quickly beyond what Russia has for technical capabilities today, we should never forget that Russia has very good technical capabilities. And with Putin at the helm, they are still an aggressor state.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Yeah, exactly. And then last point on that, on Russia too, then there seems to be two views. Everything you just said so well about it being a serious nuclear power outnumber US nuclear, those shorter range nuclear deployment systems, 10 to one sort of as the unclassified and reported assessments. And thats been outside the New START Treaty. Now theyre not abiding by the New START Treatys accounting requirements. And so, there is this narrative though that then because of all those things that the United States should stop its support to Ukraine because it isnt worth it. My assessment has been, and you can just not to lead the witness, but then you can agree or disagree and its sort of, youre seeing its out of the wrong way that Admiral Richard, the previous Stratcom commander said, “This is a small one we got to get right, because if we dont, theres a bigger one coming,” essentially paraphrasing him, is that your assessment that support for Ukraine and helping Ukraine and this war on terms favorable to Ukraine is related to that calculation for the Russians.

Mike Rounds:

Its related to a little bit bigger picture than that even because its not just a matter of making Russia think that look, its bigger than just the United States. This is the entire NATO group. And what Putin has done has successfully increased the size and the intensity of NATOs opposition to what Russia has been doing. They now, once again, have been reinforced in their belief that Russia is the threat. And so, now you have countries who have been more involved or looking more at their economic development and their societal issues, and now theyre refocused once again on what is a real existential threat to a number of their smaller countries in and around Russia. So, you have reinvigorated a NATO. NATO cannot allow Ukraine to be simply swept up by an aggressive Putin. So, now in Ukraine you find freedom-loving individuals who love their country, who want the independence of a country, who want to join the Free World.

They want to become a part of the European Union. Now they have to have their country redeveloped, but to allow them now to slip back in and to be dominated by Russia, works in the authoritarians benefit. The other piece of this is that we have substantially deteriorated the Russian war machine that they thought would work. And anything that we can do to degrade their confidence in their ability to actually invade another country will deter them for an extended period of time while NATO rebuilds its capabilities. The other piece on this that sometimes we talk about and sometimes we get past is that its not just Putin as an authoritarian who is looking at this, its also Xi Jinping. I think Xi Jinping is a very bright guy and I think he is looking at this saying, “What is my cost when I want to bring back in Taiwan,” which he has decided is part of his long-term plans. Can I get away with it?

Can I get in and can I take out Taiwan and do these other people, do these other countries out there really care enough about Taiwan to actually help them resist? I think what hes going to see is number one, the Taiwanese identify not so much as Chinese but as Taiwanese. The second piece on that is is I think they need the confidence to know that the rest of the Free World does not like the idea of authoritarian countries stepping in and deciding that they simply want to take over the land or the assets of one of their neighbors. That is not the way that you keep peace in the world. And so, in each of these cases where Xi Jinping looks at whether or not the allies can stick together, if he finds chinks in the armor, if he finds that we can only focus on this for 30 days or for 90 days or for 180 days, then he can wait us out.

And that starts to make him think that perhaps he can get away with this and the cost is not so great. What Xi Jinping has to measure in is what is my cost at home? Do I save face or do I lose face if I say I can take back Taiwan and instead the entire country sees this as a failure, or perhaps that Taiwan sees themselves as a true country or as something affiliated with and with Chinese ancestry suddenly being attacked by mainland China, communist China, what does that do to his ability to be the great leader that he wants to be remembered as?

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Thats great. And to your point too, theres other Asian democratic allies who have generally made the same assessment you just made. Theyre looking at Ukraine. Thats why you have South Korea contributing ammunitions as well to Ukraine.

Mike Rounds:

Yeah, look, this is where the B-21 really comes in. It has long range. It has the legs to be able to get over the Pacific Ocean. One of the challenges we have is just distance, just the huge distance in the Pacific. And when you start talking about where you can actually base your resources to respond to either an invasion or a blockade of Taiwan, youve got to recognize just the distances that were talking about. Now, weve only got a few aircraft right now that can meet those distances. You bring aircraft carriers in, you put them at risk, and you put as many as 5,000 Americans at risk at a time. China has been watching the way that we fight. And they know that what we do is we build up our teams, we build a huge amount of mass together, and then we go in and basically we come in and we have the resources available close by. We protect those resources, and then we go in and we take out the enemys defenses.

We take out their command and control, and then we start working on the individual offensive capabilities that an adversary has. They know that, they watched what we did in 1991, theyve seen what we did in Iraq. They understand our way of fighting, and they have tried to model it and to defend against that. Now while weve been fighting terrorism, theyve been trying to figure out how they can win against our best. So, they want to push us away from those island chains that we could have bases on. They want to push our carriers out to the point where our carrier aircraft cant get in and actually help protect the straits in and around Taiwan. What they cant defend against is a long-range bomber that they cant see. And for at least several decades, the capabilities under the B-21 are going to be such that their best defensive systems cant see it. Now, were going to be able to continue because of the way that were developing the B-21 to do plug and play.

As we develop new capabilities and we see offensive capabilities coming from China and Russia, we can actually take out older systems and replace them with newer systems to further improve our defense. Were going to be able to further defend the B-21 from discovery and to defend against the attacks coming. So, the B-21 is going to be here. Its going to be here for 50 years. And during that time period, it will be used not just for the delivery of traditional bombs, but for standoff weapons as well and eventually weapon systems that have yet to be developed. And in this era of artificial intelligence, we will be using this particular platform to direct more and more of our conventional capabilities as we take out the defensive capabilities of the enemy and make it easier for our conventional forces to get in. We also have the ability to direct them using the B-21 kind of as a quarterback, very similar to what we can with the F-35 and the F-18. In the shorter range areas, B-21 will have the same types of capabilities.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Glad you brought that up. Its been called, has a quarterbacking capability. And it can be, it can unmanned systems, and so theres other things we can plug into the architecture to be able to really give it its own combat power if deterrence does fail. And then the next part of mission is to win.

Mike Rounds:

And in fact, the B-21 is being built in such a fashion that eventually it will be able to do missions without being manned. And thats a part of the long-term planning on the B-21 today. A hundred units, its correct to start out, to get everything done and get it operational. But look, were talking, and I know that some of your experts have actually recommended over 280 units when were all set and done. Its not unreasonable when youre looking at both Russia and China and knowing that you have to have both conventionally capable weapon systems and nuclear capable weapon systems to have enough to make sure that they realize that its going to be an extremely expensive attack by them because they will not be able to defend against the counterattack by B-21s.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Right. And that number comes from how we think about deterrence is because fundamentally, as you said, this is the air leg of the nuclear triad. So first, its first role is to prevent the war from happening to begin with. And when we think about deterring nuclear powers, the United States really since the seventies have thought about what do we have to hold at risk? And its those things that which the authoritarian regime values most. And so, we know what those categories are. And so, now weve been thinking really since 2009, weve really only looked at Russia as the major nuclear power and that China as a lesser threat.

And that was the Obama administration, it really was the Bush administration, the Obama administration. Well, were in a new problem. We have now these two. Well, that just means that the deterrent requirements, that just the numbers have grown and therefore youre going to have to have the air leg to be able to reach out and convince the adversary that we can put a weapon system, we can put a weapon on each of those targets. And youre not going to get away with it just because its deeply buried inside mainland China.

Mike Rounds:

Thats correct. Look, weve got conventional capabilities to be able to go very deep, but we also have nuclear capabilities as well. This bomber can be used in both capabilities, in both possibilities. Something else as well, for a period of time now, weve been focused on terrorism and really threats that where we can dominate both in space and in the air. When we start talking about both Russia and China, that becomes a challenge once again. Our space-based capabilities will be at risk. They are very good at it. Theyve already proven that they can take out satellite systems, they have satellite systems. We have to have a weapon system that can survive without having those space-based capabilities. The B-21 is designed to be able to do that as well. And so, once again, one more opportunity to deter if they think that we need space-based capabilities in order to respond to an aggressive action on their part. And if they can take those out, which theyll do their best to do, we still have the ability to be able to respond using B-21s because we recognize that the space-based assets may not be available when we need them.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

The other important element, I think, of the B-21 in this era is we have some understandably nervous allies.

Mike Rounds:

We do.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Theyre the ones that are going to be much closer. Theyre really closer into where its going to begin as a regional conflict as we think this through. And so, they want also increased assurances from the United States, and the B-21 plays a role in assuring our allies because of its ability to be deployed and be recalled. But also, so Im thinking about South Korea, Im even thinking about the Australians in the AUKUS context, it seems to me that there is . . . And this was some of the assessments in the report, that theres opportunities here to collaborate with allies in the mission of the B-21, whether its refueling or basing. Have you thought about that, sir.

Mike Rounds:

Look, our planners have, and Im pleased to say that thats one of the reasons why our relationship with Australia is so critical. Its the reason why we have a good working relationship with South Korea, who clearly wants us to be very active in their part of the world. Look, they see the Americans as being the century. Were the folks that if were there, China thinks twice about whether or not they want to attack. China does not want to have a war with the United States, but at the same time, they want to be aggressive to their neighbors. If they think that they can be aggressive enough, and if the United States is distracted, then it works to their advantage. And our allies want to be assured that were not going to be distracted and that we will have the resources to be able to defend and to deter both in Europe and in Asia.

Look, 50 percent of all the trade in the world, probably closer to 60 percenr of all the trade in the world goes through those trades in and around Malaysia. If you want to have a long-term economy in the United States, you have to have the ability to assure those folks that we will have free trade in the world. China would like to change that scenario. They believe that theyve been disrespected. They believe that they should control that part of the world and that we should bow to them. I think most of the rest of the world would prefer to have free trade. Theyd prefer to be able to move freely about, and that the oceans should be free to transport. We want to see the economies in all countries grow. We want to see quality of life for countries improve.

China, on the other hand, would like to see other countries subservient to them in the region. They believe theyve been disrespected, and that creates a problem for the rest of us because until such time as we can reassure them that they are welcome back in to a free world, and until such time as Xi Jinping sees the opportunity to actually open up trade with other countries and to be a trusted partner, were going to have this problem and were going to have to have the deterrence, not just for Russia, but for China as well. Once again, B-21 fits that. The B-21 is the hammer, the real hammer that comes down. We can talk about cyber, we can talk about space, we can talk about submarines. The reality is that bomber, that ability to get inside and to take out defensive capabilities and open up for conventional attacks or nuclear attacks, that truly is the hammer of deterrence. It is one of the best ways that we can keep peace in the world just to make sure that our adversaries know that we can reach out and touch them. That is the B-21.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

You make an important point about how the United States is really the one seeking to defend the status quo. So, we are not the ones that are trying to create something different in Asia where the Chinese may be reacting to something thats provocative. Its the Chinese are the ones that are seeking to supplant the United States and to create an environment where they are the ones that are deciding the rules, so to speak.

Mike Rounds:

Thats correct, and look, it is a different axis of power. They would love to have their currency be the currency of the world. Today, its the United States, so its the dollar, the reason, because we have the stability, but we have the economy. Our allies want to be able to participate in the economic development of their own countries. They want to have free trade. Look, our allies recognize copyrights, they recognize patents, they recognize intellectual property. China has a problem with that because in many ways in their society, as one of their ambassadors told me over dinner one time, “In our culture, which is 5,000 years old, we really dont recognize how a person can own an idea.”

Thats a difference because we see that as economic development to allow someone to come up with an idea, to develop an idea, and then to be compensated for the idea and to protect that persons interest. Thats the reason why artificial intelligence is going to develop more in the United States than elsewhere because those new ideas, those capabilities, can be protected here. Its the reason why we have to continue to develop those new resources and those new technologies.

Chinas going to be our adversary, but long-term, perhaps with either a change in leadership on their part or perhaps a reconsideration on the part of their leadership, they can join the rest of the free world and that would be great. And at that stage of the game, the purpose for the B-21 will have been fulfilled, which will be peace. On the other hand, if China is serious about their aggressive approach, B-21 may very well be the hammer that allows us to win a war rather than to lose a war. And once again, the most inexpensive is to be prepared for a war that never happens, the second is to win a war, the worst would be to lose the war.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

And our Japanese allies, South Koreans, Australians, Taiwan, they want a world in which the United States is the preeminent power for all the reasons you just said.

Mike Rounds:

No question. Look, you hit it on the head. You think sometimes, do they really want us in the middle of this and do they really want . . . And the answer is absolutely yes. NATO allies come and say, “Look, you have to take the lead. You have to be the leader of the free world. Youre the only one that have the economy, you have the capabilities. If you dont do it, somebody else will fill that void.” And so for time and time again, whether were meeting with our NATO allies or our friends in the Pacific Rim region, the message is consistent, they want our attention. Even in Africa, which is a place where we are not good at respecting a number of those leaders over there who really are the George Washingtons in their own countries today as they try to create small democracies and so forth, we have a tendency to look down and to tell them that theyre not meeting our social goals.

But those same people tell us that they want our attention. They would much rather to trade with us than with China, theyd much rather have our investments than Chinese investments. They see the difference between an authoritarian approach or that of a democracy where you have messy discussions and so forth, but you do it for the good of the people, rather than for the good of the leadership. And we should never forget that we do truly have a place in the world, and thats not a new thing. That did not begin with Ronald Reagan, that goes over all the way back to a guy by the name of George Washington who clearly saw the ability to talk about men as a brotherhood who should be working for the improvement in the quality of life for all mankind.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Senator, do you think that South Dakotans understand this?

Mike Rounds:

Yes, I do. Look, were going to be the home of the B-21 bomber. Were the first the Ellsworth Air Force Base, which is near Rapid City, South Dakota in the Black Hills, its the home of the B-1 right now, it has been the home of the B-52 bombers in the past. Ellsworth Air Force Base is looking forward to welcoming the first two squadrons and then perhaps the ninth Squadron as well, but the first ones a training squadron for the B-21. Were developing the actual facilities for that right now. The second squadron thats coming in will be the first operational squadron for the B-21, and then from there, both Whiteman and Dyess are both also being included in this, and then we come back with the ninth one to be back in South Dakota. As we increase the total numbers, well have seriously consider other air bases as well for bases to spread that out over a number of different locations for the B-21 beddown.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Wonderful, I think weve got some time for questions from the audience. If you can just state your name and then go ahead and ask a brief question. Go ahead, sir.

Mike Rounds:

There we go.

Audience Member:

Okay. B-21 is designed to deter the China and Russia mainly. How about the North Korea? So, in terms of the extent . . . how do you see that B-21 impact extended to South Korea?

Mike Rounds:

We recognize that North Korea is a threat. We consider them to be a rogue nation because literally they have a leader who may or may not, for his own purposes, be aggressive. The B-21 is a threat. The B-21 most certainly has the ability to penetrate any of the defenses that North Korea has. We know where they keep their systems. Its not a secret to us as to where they keep their weapon systems at. We know what they have for weapon systems. We also know how we can take out their weapon systems, and you need a stealth aircraft in order to be able to do that. The B-21 fills that role.

The nice thing about the B-21 is that it has the ability to span great distances. It is not supersonic, but it can move in a period of hours, even from the continental United States in. As we add more B-21s, there will be a rotation just like there is today among our other aircraft. The B-2 will be rotated through Guam at this time as well. You will see the same types of rotations and visits to our allies as well, and its nice to be able to have them have the same impression of this weapon system, this platform, as many of you might have seen in the opening when it was first introduced to the world as the B-21, as we just brought it out of the hangar for a little bit and then took it back in. And so, part of being able to show deterrence is to allow the rest of the world to actually see that this is a real weapons platform with real capabilities.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Great. If you can just state your name and then . . . Oh, sorry. Dan behind you. Dan, youre next.

Dr. Myrtle Alexander:

Thank you. Dr. Myrtle Alexander, Institute for Academic Management. Thank you so much for your detailed presentation this morning. I really appreciate it. My question to you, as a former Army wife, speaks to the manufacturing of the B-21. Right now, I believe the location is California. Is there are any plan to distribute the manufacturing across the United States? And then also how can you speak to the status of the workforce that is capable, skilled to be able to do that, and also a timeline that we can anticipate having the, I think the pilot, just last month, can we anticipate when the first 10, the first 50, first 100 will be readily available?

Mike Rounds:

Im going to be very careful about speaking on behalf of the Air Force with regard to deployment. Let me say that with regard to workforce as of this last month, Northrop Grumman, who is the primary, says they have the workforce force. I do not know of any plans to develop a second formation location, but the other contractors, and there are lots and lots of subcontractors, are across the entire United States. So the subcontracting will continue to be done elsewhere. But you have, I dont know if I can talk about where the other locations are at for this, but there are other major suppliers of different components to the B-21 that are not just in California, but are located in other facilities across the United States. With regard to the timing on this, the Air Force will simply say that the first deliveries will be in the middle part of this decade, and I think thats where I will leave it as well.

Dr. Myrtle Alexander:

Can you speak to the health of the Homestead Air Force base and are they a factor?

Mike Rounds:

The health of the what?

Dr. Myrtle Alexander:

Homestead Air Force base, and are they a factor in-

Mike Rounds:

Im not sure . . . The three that are part of the process right now will be Ellsworth, Dyess and Whiteman.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Whiteman.

Dr. Myrtle Alexander:

Okay, thank you so much.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Great questions. Thank you so much for being here. Dan.

Dan McKivergan:

Hi, Dan McKivergan from Hudson and thank you for joining us today, Senator. Last month Putin gave a televised speech where he called on greater collaboration with China on defense cutting edge technology. Given that, and given Chinas help with some of the dual use equipment in Ukraine, where do you see the Russia/China relationship evolving, particularly on the technical side in the years ahead?

Mike Rounds:

Yeah, I think theres been a change. I think for a while Putin was the big brother, and I think now hes found himself because of his economic woes and because of the battle that he has going on in Ukraine right now, hes basically beholden to China to help him. And I think China is taking advantage of that opportunity. I think Russia will be expected to pay for what China delivers to them in terms of munitions and so forth. It means that that relationship between Xi Jinping and Putin has now reversed and that Xi Jinping is now the dominant of the two. I think Putin is discovering that the technologies that China has are in some cases equal to or better than what Russia had. And with regard to cyber capabilities, China continues to develop at a more rapid pace than what Russia does today. Both are a threat to the United States every single day.

I think that it speaks to the fact that that China desperately needs to find allies, and they cant find them in the free world. What you now have is truly an axis made up of China and Russia and North Korea and Iran, and theyre actively engaged in communications among themselves. But then you have the rest of the world who is looking at freedom and who wants to be free, and they see these four countries as a greater threat to their own long-term freedom clearly than they see in the United States. There may be others around the world who see our economic power and would love to have that themselves, but none of them that I can see or that I have visited with seem to have an interest in developing unilateral arrangements with just Russia or with China. A lot of those countries out there would love to live in peace and theyd love to have good relations with everybody. I understand that, but they also recognize that there is a cost to having a relationship with either Russia or China that many of them dont want to pay.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

And to your previous point, sir, and they want the United States to be the leader in the coalescing forces.

Mike Rounds:

Question about that. Yeah, no question.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Well, I think Im going to end this wonderful discussion by reading just a little section from one of the essays in the report, and I do encourage you all to go to Hudsons website and download this, what I think is going to be a really helpful report that Hudson has led with the various contributors across the world. But I think this really ties our whole conversation together. Its from Mackenzie Eaglen from AEI wrote this essay and she was talking about the acquisition program of the B-21, where in 2015, whenever it was first inked, the deal for the B-21, people were skeptical that our Pentagon could do this so quickly.

“Yet despite,” Mackenzie says, “The initial unease, the development of the B-21 has drawn bipartisan praise as a success story. It has been lauded by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin as, A testament to Americas enduring advantages in ingenuity and innovation.” Which is something that Senator, I think, it has this symbolic weight to it that as these authoritarian countries are collaborating to supplant the United States, because of our ingenuity and our free market economy, were able to produce this. And then McKinsey goes on and quotes Senator Mike Rounds-

Mike Rounds:

Uh-oh.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

. . . and says, that emphasized, “The B-21 could one day emerge as a model acquisition program.”

Mike Rounds:

And it is. Look, we learned a lot from the F-35. We learned a lot from the F-22. A lot of those lessons were hard lessons and we learned what we could do better with the creation of the B-21. And the program managers, the folks that have been working on it, this has been a marvelous example of American ingenuity and a case of where when the Pentagon and the Air Force allows those professionals to get in, they know what their challenge is and they stay the course and not try to make a bomber into something besides a bomber to begin with. Things work, and thats what you see with the B-21. It is focused on being a bomber, but with that comes the ability to do lots of other things that have been built in from the very start.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Senator, thank you so much. We really benefit from your leadership, not just on the B-21, but on your understanding and your ability to see the value of US leadership in the world and what that provides this country, our allies and our posterity. I see that you have 10 grandchildren, so I know that it is important to you and for the future of this country.

Mike Rounds:

Ten grandkids and a whisper.

Rebeccah Heinrichs:

Oh. Thank you so much, Senator. Thank you all for being with us. Would you please join me in thanking the Senator for his time?

Mike Rounds:

Thank you.

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