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B-21 Long Range Strike Platform 'Raider'

On February 26, 2016 Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James revealed the first "rendering" of the Long Range Strike Bomber, designated the B-21, at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., and announced the Air Force will be taking suggestions from Airmen to help decide the name of the bomber. The designation B-21 recognizes the LRS-B as the first bomber of the 21st century.

The picture is surely no more than a "rendering" since there is no indication as to the location or configuration for the engine exhaust on the top of the plane visible in the rendering. Presumabl the exhaust is on the bottom of the plane, but this seems improbable. Heat, in the form of infrared radiation, radiates from aircraft engines and, unless otherwise shielded, will emit or reflect down and outward into directions that can be used by would-be threats to try and target aircraft operating in zones of armed conflict. Whether or not aircraft are fitted with protective countermeasures equipment, aircraft that project heat and noise toward the community don't offer any preventative deterrence against the would-be threat, such as interrupting the weapon targeting process. The interests of military and special purpose aircraft operators and procurement officials continue to be focused on affordability and burdens for installed defensive systems for aircraft and crew protection.

The US Air Force has chosen several aerospace companies to work with prime contractor Northrop Grumman on the new long-range B-21 strategic bomber project, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James told a press conference 07 March 2016. James said the companies are: Pratt & Whitney, BAE Systems, GKN Aerospace, Rockwell Collins, Spirit Aerosystems and Orbital ATK. "Pratt & Whitney will provide new engines, the other six will work on air frames [and other systems]," James stated. The initial contract value will be worth more than $23 billion, US Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Walsh told the press conference. Eventually, the US Air Force may buy up to 100 of new stealth aircraft costing more than $50 billion, according to published reports.

On 27 October 2015 the US Air Force selected Northrop Grumman Corporation to deliver the nation's new Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B). This selection continued the company's 35-year partnership with the Air Force in providing the world's most advanced long-range strike systems.

"The Air Force has made the right decision for our nation's security," said Wes Bush, chairman, chief executive officer and president, Northrop Grumman. "As the company that developed and delivered the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, we look forward to providing the Air Force with a highly-capable and affordable next-generation Long-Range Strike Bomber. "Our team has the resources in place to execute this important program, and we're ready to get to work," Bush added.

Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products and solutions in unmanned systems, cyber, C4ISR, and logistics and modernization to government and commercial customers worldwide.

"Over the past century, no nation has used air power to accomplish its global reach -- to compress time and space -- like the United States," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during a Pentagon briefing announcing the contract. "Today, it's vital to innovate and reinvest in the people, strategies and technologies that will allow America's military to be dominant in the second aerospace century. Ive made such innovation a hallmark of my commitment to the future of Americas military.

"Building this bomber is a strategic investment in the next 50 years, and represents our aggressive commitment to a strong and balanced force," Carter continued. "It demonstrates our commitment to our allies and our determination to potential adversaries, making it crystal clear that the United States will continue to retain the ability to project power throughout the globe long into the future."

"The LRS-B will provide our nation tremendous flexibility as a dual-capable bomber and the strategic agility to respond and adapt faster than our potential adversaries, said Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Chief of Staff of the Air Force. We have committed to the American people to provide security in the skies, balanced by our responsibility to affordably use taxpayer dollars in doing so. This program delivers both while ensuring we are poised to face emerging threats in an uncertain future.

On 06 November 2015 Boeing and Lockheed Martin filed a formal protest today asking the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the decision to award the Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) contract to Northrop Grumman. Boeing and Lockheed Martin concluded the selection process for the Long Range Strike Bomber was fundamentally flawed. The cost evaluation performed by the government did not properly reward the contractors' proposals to break the upward-spiraling historical cost curves of defense acquisitions, or properly evaluate the relative or comparative risk of the competitors' ability to perform, as required by the solicitation. That flawed evaluation led to the selection of Northrop Grumman over the industry-leading team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, whose "proposal offers the government and the warfighter the best possible LRS-B at a cost that uniquely defies the prohibitively expensive trends of the nation's past defense acquisitions".

On 26 February 2016 Boeing and Lockheed Martin dropped their lawsuit to prevent the US Air Force awarding its $55 billion Long Range Strike-Bomber contract to their rival Northrop Grumman, Boeing said in a news release. "[The] Lockheed Martin team has decided not to pursue further challenges to that award, either through the GAO [Government Accountability Office] or in federal court," the release stated. The two aerospace corporations applied to the GAO claiming their own joint bid to build the bomber to ensure the next generation of US strategic air power projection had been rejected on false grounds. The GAO investigation upheld the original US Air Force decision to award the contract to Northrop Grumman.

The Long Range Strike Bomber contract is composed of two parts. The contract for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development, or EMD, phase is a cost-reimbursable type contract with cost and performance incentives. The incentives minimize the contractors profit if they do not control cost and schedule appropriately. The independent estimate for the EMD phase is $21.4 billion in 2010 dollars.

The second part of the contract is composed of options for the first 5 production lots, comprising 21 aircraft out of the total fleet of 100. They are fixed price options with incentives for cost. Based on approved requirements, the Average Procurement Unit Cost (APUC) per aircraft is required to be equal to or less than $550 million per aircraft in 2010 dollars when procuring 100 LRS-B aircraft. The APUC from the independent estimate supporting todays award is $511 million per aircraft, again in 2010 dollars.

Based on 2015 LRS-B independent cost estimates, the Air Force projected the APUC for the program will be approximately a third of the previous B-2 stealth aircraft.

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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