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Long Range Strike Platform

Under current plans, the B-52, along with the younger B-1B Lancer and the new stealthy B-2 Spirit, will be kept around until approximately 2037, by which time the Air Force calculates that attrition will have reduced the fleet below the minimum 170 aircraft. The B-52s may fly to 2045.

Based on current operating procedures, attrition models, and service lives, the total bomber inventory is predicted to fall below the required 170 aircraft fleet by 2037. This date will become the target Initial Operational Capability (IOC) date for a follow-on to the current bomber capability, and an acquisition process can be planned by backing up from this date. Based on current projections for airframe economic service life and forecast mishap rate, initiating a replacement process no later than 2013 will ensure a capability to fill the long-range air power requirement as the current systems are retired.

There are, however, additional concerns besides service life and mishap rates that could shift this replacement timeline. Changes in employment concepts, driven by technological advances in munitions and threats, or improvements in industry's ability to perform cost effective major structural extensions could extend the today's bomber force well beyond current projections. This may shift the acquisition timeline for a replacement capability further into the future.

The Light Bomber (Manned) concept called for a medium-sized aircraft that blends the advantages of a tactical fighter with a strategic bomber to develop a medium/long range, high payload capability (inter-theater) affordable bomber. The aircraft will utilize some level of low-observable technology to obtain an effective yet affordable aircraft which can provide for multiple/heavy weapons carriage and launch for missions requiring real time decision making/replanning or autonomous operations. Cost would be controlled by utilizing off-the-shelf systems and affordable stealth technologies (JSF technology). Logistic support would be enhanced by maximizing commonality of support equipment with existing systems.

The Bomber Industrial Capabilities Study was directed by Congress, chartered by the DOD, and conducted by The Analytic Sciences Corporation (TASC). The study concluded that building a new bomber type, a B-3, could easily cost in excess of $35 billion for research and development alone (with unit flyaway costs about the same as a B-2). Technology concepts from the USAF Scientific Advisory Board's (SAB) New World Vistas and technology concepts submitted for the 2025 Study were reviewed and concepts harvested from these efforts included the Future Attack Aircraft. This concept envisions a 500-nm-range manned or unmanned aircraft that would use stealth technology (both RF and IR) to reach a target and employ laser or high-power microwave (HPM) weapons. An unmanned aircraft with a "tunable" HPM weapon could provide either the nonlethal or lethal punch SAF needs in the constabulary mission.

Two concepts under consideration by Air Force Materiel Command included:

  • Multi-mission - Manned, multi-role capability, radius > 450+ range (hi-med-hi), Payload??, medium threat, Unit Flyaway Price (UFP) < $75M (BY00) Number of Concepts Scored: 3 ('96); 1 ('97); 1 ('98)
  • 10.2 Deep Strike - Manned, 1000NM < radius < 2000NM, 12-24 klbs, high-med-high or hi-lo-hi, med-high threat, $50M < UFP < $250M (BY00)

A 1999 RAND Corporation study articulated a rationale for acquiring a Mach 2 supersonic bomber with the following characteristics

  • unrefueled range of 3,250 nmi
  • weight of 290,000 to 350,000 pounds each
  • payload of 15,000 to 20,000 pounds
  • support of 37 to 40 percent of the current USAF tanker fleet and 100 air superiority fighters.

The Mach 2 bomber could attack targets almost anywhere in the world while operating from well-protected, permanent bases on US and UK territory. A total inventory of approximately 80 to 105 of these Mach 2 bombers could deliver enough PGMs (about 560 tons per day) to replicate the USAF Desert Storm effort.

Once awarded, the contract would likely go to Northrop Grumman or a combination of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, all of which have put in competitive bids. Once completed, the LRS-B will likely be capable of both manned and unmanned flight, and will be designed to carry traditional weapons, as well as nuclear bombs and future weapons still under development. Engineers are also focused on ensuring that the aircraft can evade air defenses capable of more accurately tracking aircraft at longer ranges, even stealth aircraft.

By 2015 the military had invested nearly $1 billion in the Long Range Strike Bomber. Once the research and development is completed, the Air Force planned buy between 80 and 100 bombers, at a cost of $550 million each.

A report completed in April 2015 by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment (CSBA) concluded that the military would shift its focus away from maneuverable fighter jets to long-range bombers, like the LRS-B. "Aircraft performance attributes essential for success in air-to-air combat during the gun and early missile eras such as high speed, good acceleration, and maneuverability, are much less useful now that aircraft can be detected and engaged from dozens of miles away".

An April 2015 proposal by the House Armed Services Committee – in charge of the defense budget – would cut funding for LRS-B research by $460 million, leaving only $786 million for the project. That proposal had already delayed the decision on a defense contractor, according to Congressional officials. "The proposal authorizes the full amount for the program that the Air Force can execute in [fiscal year 2016], given contract award delays," a House Armed Services Committee official said, according to DOD Buzz. "Additionally, the Chairman instructs GAO to complete an assessment of technology challenges and cost implications associated with LRS-B."

Air Force Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak said 13 May 2015 a proposed $460 million funding reduction in fiscal 2016 for the Long-Range Strike Bomber program is warranted, given that the contract has not been awarded yet. "We can keep this system on track and take those reductions," he said.

The Air Force claims it can build 100 bombers for no more than $564 million each. Lawrence Korb – who served as assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan and is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress – doubts that claim. "But even if that were true, the price tag does not include the development costs, estimated to exceed $20 billion," Korb writes in an article published 03 NOvember 2015 by Reuters. He points out that the projected costs are in 2010 dollars – not the actual amount taxpayers must pay in 2017, when the planes start to roll off the assembly line. The 2010 price also assumes there will be no cost overruns or delays.

When speculating on what the next generation of an American Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) would look like, US military experts James Hasik and Rachel Rizzo of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. argue that adding nuclear capability to the LRS-B would contribute little to deterring a possible nuclear attack. “A nuclear-armed bomber force makes little marginal contribution to deterring a large-scale nuclear attack,” two military experts wrote in their article for The National Interest magazine. “Without wartime dispersal, airfields for USAF (US Air Force) bombers comprise just five well-known aim points, easily destroyed with a handful of nuclear explosions,” they reasoned.

“Even if these attacks were conducted with low-yield weapons, the death, destruction, and fallout from so many atomic explosions would be considerable and long-lasting. Depending on the wind, Bozeman, Billings, or Bismarck could be at least rendered uninhabitable. An enemy would have to be reckless to presume that sort of bombardment could be conducted without an intense, and most likely immediate, response.”

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