REPORT OF THE PANEL TO REVIEW LONG RANGE AIR POWER
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.
ROLE OF LONGRANGE AIR POWER
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.
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 BOMBER FORCE
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.
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.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|