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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)



The Panel to Review Long­Range Air Power was established by congressional direction in Section 8131 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal 1998. The legislation defined the purpose of the Panel and the process for appointing the members. The following individuals comprised the membership of the Panel:

General Larry D. Welch, USAF (Ret), Chairman

Mr. Samuel D. Adcock

Senator James J. Exon

The Honorable John S. Foster, Jr.

Colonel Frederick L. Frostic, USAF (Ret)

General Merrill A. McPeak, USAF (Ret)

Mr. Walter E. Morrow, Jr.

The Honorable Donald B. Rice

General Robert L. Rutherford, USAF (Ret).

The legislation directed the Panel to recommend whether additional funds for the B­2 should be used for continued low­rate production of the B­2 or for upgrades to improve its deployability, survivability, and maintainability

To address the specific B­2 issues and the broader issues about long­range air power, the congressional language directed the Panel to consider, but not be limited to, the following:

  • scenarios involving no warning time or little warning time from potential adversaries,
  • the makeup of the current bomber fleet and expected attrition to that fleet over the next 15 years,
  • the potential effect of additional B­2 bombers on deterrence,
  • the potential effect of additional B­2 bombers in the halt phase of conflict,
  • the potential of a biological or chemical lock­out of tactical assets and the effect of additional B­2 bombers toward mitigating such a tactic,
  • trade­offs between additional B-2 bombers and other prograrnmed assets in meeting the scenarios desciribed above,
  • the desirability of an increased rate of purchase of precision­guided munitions for aircraft in the existing B­2 fleet,
  • the desirability of improving the low observables characteristics of the existing B-2 fleet, and
  • the affordability of additional B-2 bombers in the context of projected levels of future defense funding.

The Panel received briefings and held discussions with representatives of the principal organizations within the Department of Defense and industry involved with long­range air power. Much of the information required to make informed judgments about the issues involved is classified at the compartmented and/or TOP SECRET level. The Panel had full access to this information, regardless of classification. In order to make the report of the panel as useful as possible, the classified report was written at the SECRET non­compartmented level. This paper provides an unclassified summary of the principal findings and recommendations of the Panel.

To address the question regarding funds for the B­2 and the considerations identified, the Panel felt it important to evaluate the B­2 in the context of the Department's total bomber force. The Panel examined three areas:
the role of long range air power and the value of stealth;  the adequacy of the current bomber force, in size and in its capabilities to support contingency operations, and the status of the B­2, both the capability of the current fleet and the status of the production base.


The Panel believes that long­range air power is an increasingly important element of US military capability. Long­range air power can significantly enhance US initial response capabilities. Delivering conventional munitions, long­range air power has an increasingly important role in contingency operations ranging from a show of force to a major theater war. Some of the important contributors to this expanded role are:  rapid initial response of the bomber force;  the ability to operate from bases more distant from the source of threats than other air power assets;  the large payload capacity of the bomber force and its emerging ability to deliver precision munitions, to include stand­off precision munitions;  the ability, with variable levels of support, to hold targets at risk anywhere in a theater of operations; and the endurance for on­orbit, on­call missions.

The ability to strike from longer range reduces some of the constraints associated with basing restrictions and reduces the force's vulnerability to attack. Long­range bombers provide a rapid
initial response to threats. With the assistance of aerial refueling, long­range air power can strike targets anywhere on earth. Such capability, if properly supported, would give long­range air power the virtual presence cited by its proponents. This ability to operate from beyond the immediate area of operations also enables long­range aircraft to influence a region of interest while remaining distant enough to keep diplomatic tensions low.

The potential of the bomber force is multiplied by the addition of precision­guided munitions, both direct delivery and stand­off. Precision­guided munitions extend the capabilities of all bombers in the force and should dramatically alter and strengthen their role. While bombers have been used heavily in virtually every major conflict to include Vietnam and the Gulf War, they have been employed as "aerial trucks" delivering large payloads of unguided munitions against areas of interest. With the addition of precision­guided munitions, this force can now attack multiple, discrete targets with high effectiveness, fundamentally altering the role of bombers. Because these capabilities are just emerging, existing plans for supporting and employing bombers do not fully exploit their capabilities. The Panel believes that more attention is needed to exploit this expanded capability of the bomber force.

The Value of Stealth

Low observables (stealth) characteristics markedly enhance the capability ­ for survivable attack of defended targets. Stealth, against air defense radars, is a key attribute since such radars continue to be the primary long­range detection, tracking and guidance sensor for air defenses against medium to high altitude penetrators. Levels of stealth in currently deployed aircraft ­ B­2 and F­117 ­ degrade multiple steps in the air defense engagement process and provide unsupported access for air­to­ground attacks against a wide range of targets using overflight (direct delivery) or stand­off munitions. This process typically begins with an initial detection, next involves one or more handovers to more specialized sensors that support launch decisions and provide midcourse guidance, and ends with terminal guidance, fusing, and warhead detonation. Today, after 15 years of stealth aircraft operation, the most modem air defense systems on the international arms market have increasing capability against current levels of deployed stealth. Even so, most targets can be attacked with minimum extemal support other than air refueling. In addition to their own attack capability, stealth aircraft can be employed so as to leverage the success of the rest of the bomber and the fighter fleets.

Forward Basing

While bombers can operate from the continental United States, they must be deployed forward to generate the sustained high sortie rates needed in major contingencies. Adversary attacks on forward bases, particularly attacks involving weapons of mass destruction, can significantly degrade the effectiveness of forces operating from such forward bases. The bomber bases may be more distant from the threat and, thus, less subject to attack than the most forward bases. Still, attention is required to provide the means to continue effective operations even in the face of chemical or biological attacks. The Panel also found that increased investment in maintenance facilities, prepositioned support equipment, and initial munitions loads is required for sustained operations from selected forward bases.


The Panel reviewed a range of studies that evaluated the adequacy of the size of the planned bomber force which includes the B­1, the B­52 and the B­2 bombers. Taking into account the likely increase in the demand for long­range air power, the Panel found compelling arguments for measures to leverage the investment by adequately supporting and upgrading the existing force.

Current planning within the Department is based on sortie rates that under­utilize the nation's bomber investment across all aircraft, but particularly for the B­2. An increase in sortie rate by a factor of two doubles the capability to deliver bombs on target. From an investment perspective, increasing the efficiency of the bomber force is more cost effective than procurement of additional aircraft.

The addition of enough stand­off precision­guided munitions and other survivability features can make this force effective throughout the life of the aircraft.

Improvements Needed that are Unique to the B­2

There are a number of areas where high­leverage investments should be made to the current fleet of B­2 bombers. Significant improvements are needed on low observables maintainability. The Panel strongly endorses a combined program that improves both low­observables-related maintainability and stealth performance. A major part of the $157 million added by Congress in Fiscal Year 1998 should be committed to this purpose. Additional funding will be required in Fiscal Year 1999 and future years. To avoid further delay, this program needs to be expeditiously defined and executed.

Mission planning timelines are excessive and should be improved. Additional investment is needed to upgrade B­2 mission planning capabilities.

B­2 Production Status

The B­2 production lines at Northrop and major subassembly contractors are now dosed. The major on­going activity is the modification effort at Northrop. Should the Department decide to re­establish production, the current estimate, not supported by a firm commitment from major subassembly contractors and the array of essential vendors, would deliver the first additional B­2 in 2005. The only cost proposal available to the panel was based on a recent Northrop proposal: about $14B for nine additional aircraft. When start­up time for subassemblies, requalifying vendors, and fabrication and checkout time after delivery of subassemblies are considered, 2005 is probably optimistic.

Precision­Guided Munitions

The Department has plans to procure substantial numbers of the new generation of joint precision guided munitions. The Panel applauds these plans. The Panel also believes that the planned buy of the Joint Air to Surface Stand­off Missile (JASSM) should be substantially increased and the JASSM should be a high priority for integration on each of the bomber types.

Force Alternatives and Affordability

The Panel found no new analytical breakthroughs that would add more fidelity or authority to available studies that compare the relative value of force elements that have widely diverse missions and uses. Further, the Panel did not make judgments about the difficulty the Department would have in funding the cost of either adding B­2s or upgrading the current bomber force. That difficulty is a matter of priorities across the defense budget. In any case, using the Fiscal Year 1998 funding as a start on establishing a low­rate B­2 production line would severely disrupt the baseline B­2 program ­ an outcome the Panel regards as ill­advised. In addition, it would deprive the program of funds for upgrades to the fleet that are important to more effective use in future contingencies.


The specific charge to the panel was to recommend whether additional funds for the B­2 should be used for continued low­rate production of the B­2 or for upgrades to improve its deployability, survivability, and maintainability. The Panel's recommendation is: to use additional funds for the B­2 for upgrades to improve its deployability, survivability, and maintainability. In Fiscal Year 1998, $174 million should be restored to sustain the existing baseline B­2 program. The additional $157 million appropriated by Congress should be focused on a combined initiative to improve B­2 low­observables­related maintainability and stealth performance, and on command and control communications needed to more effectively use the capability to strike multiple high priority targets per mission.

The Panel recommends that the Department exploit the current B­1, B­2 and B­52 bomber force through more operational attention to using its potential capability and through additional investments to:  provide operational support for the maximum practical number of available B­1, B­2 and B­52 airframes; upgrade the precision munitions payload capability to carry the maximum practical numbers of the most effective munitions;
increase the responsiveness of the mission planning system and command, control, and intelligence connectivity to the bomber force to exploit the capability to attack multiple high leverage targets per sortie;  improve the attack radar systems to increase delivery accuracy for the B­ I and B­52;  increase bomber sortie rates through:

­ a combined initiative to improve low observables­related maintainability and survivability of the B­2,

­ mission planning capability improvements, and

­ additional support resources.

For the longer term the Panel found that, if the current bomber fleet is supported with smart, continuing investments, this force will provide high­leverage in a wide range of contingencies through the remainder of its useful life. Even so, an investment plan is needed to upgrade and sustain the future force structure. Current plans do not adequately address the long­term future of the bomber force. The lead time for the next generation aircraft is likely to be long, regardless of the approach selected. The Panel recommends that the Department develop a plan to replace the existing force over time. Alternatives for consideration are:

  • a variant of the B­2, incorporating upgrades suggested in this report and those that will emerge in the future; or
  • development of more advanced technologies that might lead to a better solution for the next generation aircraft.

Today, there is not yet an adequate basis for such a choice. A continuing program to demonstrate advanced technologies in support of long­range air power should be given high priority.

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