Tag Archives: Air Force

The SECDEF Himself Confirms: The Next Gen Bomber Is Absolutely Needed

Last week, anti-nuclear, anti-defense groups such as POGO, the “Council for a Livable World”, the Arms Control Association, and the Cato Institute were dealt a severe blow when no less an authority than the Secretary of Defense debunked their lie that the next generation bomber, and the US nuclear deterrent in general, are not needed.

Speaking to Airmen at Whiteman AFB, MO, outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel underlined the crucial importance of America’s nuclear deterrent:

“It’s always about strategic deterrence so that we don’t have to send our men and women into conflict. Our adversaries have to know and have to believe, and essentially have to trust that we have deterrent capability, that in fact we have everything we say we have.”

And he especially stressed the importance of fielding a new, stealthy bomber to replace the USAF’s old, obsolete B-52 and B-1 bombers – especially in view of China’s military buildup and America’s need to defeat any possible adversaries:

Hagel said the military should invest billions of dollars in developing a new aircraft to replace some of today’s aging bombers, in particular the B-52, which are more than 50 years old. He said the new aircraft program, known as the Long-Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, will be well funded in the budget request slated for release in February.

“I think the Long-Range Strike Bomber is absolutely essential for keeping our deterrent edge. … We need to do it. We need to make the investments. We’ll have it in the budget. It’s something I have particularly put a priority on.”

The bomber is absolutely needed because older bombers – the B-52 and the B-1 – stand absolutely no chance of being able to survive in airspace protected by, let alone defeat, modern Russian air defense systems such as the S-300, S-400, and their Chinese clones – and Russia is set to export both systems to Iran soon.

As reported by DefenseOne:

This new aircraft would reassure allies and extends the reach of U.S. military strategic power, Hagel said.

“It’s something that I have particularly put a priority on [in] the budgets and things that I’ve talked about with the Congress,” he said.  “I have confidence that the Congress will support us. It’s a critical element of our future long-range strategic deterrence capabilities.”

Later this year, the Air Force is expected to select either Northrop Grumman or a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team to build the new bomber. Pentagon leaders have said little about the project as it’s classified, with its details shrouded in secrecy.

According to DefenseNews, the US Air Force is set to choose who will build the next gen bomber – called the Long Range Strike Bomber – in late spring or early summer this year:

WASHINGTON — In late spring or early summer, the US Air Force will decide who will build its next-generation bomber. Yet, despite all the hype and public interest, the program remains shrouded in mystery.

The Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) program is stealthy, literally and figuratively. Few details are actually known about the bomber’s capabilities or design. But the program’s impact is already being widely felt throughout the Pentagon and its industry partners.

The half a dozen analysts and experts interviewed by Defense News for this piece all agree on one thing: the LRS-B has the chance to shape American military aerospace for the next 20 years. Whichever competitor wins will reap a windfall of development money; the loser could find itself out of the military attack airframe business entirely.

And while the program appears to be on track, Congress is waiting in the wings for any sign of cost overrun or technological problems.

“This is crunch time,” said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group. “It’s the biggest single outstanding DoD competition by a very wide margin. That makes it important in and of itself.”

Unfortunately, the $550 mn per unit price ceiling may limit the bomber’s capabilities:

A source with knowledge of the program said the Air Force is likely looking at something smaller than a B-2, perhaps as small as half the size, with two engines similar in size to the F135 engines that power the F-35, so enhancement programs can also be applied to the bomber.

“They should go bigger [in terms of airframe], but Gates threw that $500 million figure out there without thinking through the overall effect and requirement,” the source said.

Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, former deputy chief of staff for ISR, agreed that the focus on the $550 million figure may end up hurting the bomber’s capabilities by driving the discussion from what the plane does to what can keep the price down.

“One of the biggest concerns is that this is going to turn into a cost shootout, and whomever can produce a ‘technically acceptable’ airplane at the lowest cost will be the winner, without any judgment or look at the ability for growth, the ability to connect to new technologies,” he said. “That is a big concern amongst folks out there who are involved in this evolution.”

And then there are the theories that the bomber is further along in its development cycle than it appears. Last year, J.J. Gertler, an analyst with the Congressional Research Service penned a memo noting that the bomber’s budget profile looks more like a production than a research and development program, hinting that much of the technological development and testing has already occurred behind the scenes.

In any case, this demonstrates that – once again – I was right all along, and those anti-nuclear, anti-defense groups were dead wrong all along.

Source material:

1) http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/pentagon/2015/01/13/hagel-backs-air-force-plans-for-long-range-strike-bomber/21713815/

2) http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2015/01/new-air-force-bomber-critical-piece-pentagons-pacific-weaponry/102798/?oref=d-mostread; http://csbaonline.org/2015/01/13/new-air-force-bomber-is-a-critical-piece-of-the-pentagons-pacific-weaponry/

3) http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/air-space/strike/2015/01/18/air-force-bomber-industry/21805275/

4) http://missilethreat.com/sophisticated-russian-s-400-missiles-iran-new-military-pact-s-300s-egypt-syria-hizballah/


Why a nuclear-capable next-gen bomber is necessary

Some Congressmen have recently expressed doubts about a nuclear-capable next-generation bomber is needed and whether something else couldn’t act as a substitute. The purpose of this blogpost is to dispel such doubts.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), a defense weakling who supports defense cuts, tried to portray cruise missiles and unmanned stealthy aircraft as some kind of alternative to the NGB:

“We’ve got a penetrating bomber capability from the B-2s for several more decades, and we’ve got cruise missiles, we’ve got unmanned stealth strike aircraft. Why in the world do we need a next-generation bomber?”

Here’s why, Congressman.

Unmanned strike aircraft are no substitute because they don’t have the sufficient range, payload capability, degree of stealthiness, or other attributes that bombers, especially B-2 bombers, provide. Drones can only deliver tiny payloads (even smaller than those of short-range manned aircraft like the F-16) over short distances. By contrast, bombers can delivery huge payloads (the equivalent of the punch of hundreds of drones) over intercontinental distances, and B-2s can do so stealthily.

Cruise missiles are very expensive and have a short range compared to bombers. They are useful for, and cost-effective at, eliminating only a relatively small number of targets. If one needs to eliminate a large number of targets, especially fleeting ones, one needs bombers, because with a large number of targets it is much cheaper and therefore much more cost-effective to use bombers. General Charles “Chuck Horner”, who commanded USAF assets in the Gulf War and later in the 1990s, explains why:

“Cruise missiles are too expensive for sustained operations; cost was the reason Washington ordered me to stop firing Tomahawks during the Gulf War. The fortyfour cruise missiles fired at Iraq in September [1996] cost more than $100 million — 100 times more than an equivalent number of B-2-delivered precision guided munitions.”

See? Cruise missiles are too expensive for any kind of sustained operations, and the 44 cruise missiles fired at Iraq in September 1996 cost 100 times more than the equivalent number of guided bombs delivered by a B-2 would’ve cost ($1 mn). In other words, using B-2s and their guided munitions would’ve saved a lot of money – 99% of that cost, i.e. $99 mn. So procuring and using bombers instead of cruise missiles saves money.

Moreover, today the cost of a SINGLE Tomahawk missile is $1 mn. That means the cost of one such missile is the same as would’ve been the cost of bombing all 44 of these targets by B-2s.

Similarly, procuring and using NGBs instead of cruise missiles would, in the long run, save a lot of money. Cruise missiles are unaffordable in large quantities, and using them on large groups of targets is a waste of missiles and money. It’s much cheaper to have bombers drop precision ordnance on these targets. And in most plausible war scenarios, vis-a-vis most of its plausible enemies, the US military will have to eliminate large numbers of targets.

Moreover, the majority of the US military’s cruise missiles are nonstealthy (and therefore easily detectible and easy to intercept) and old, meaning they will have to be retired in the next decade.

He also explains why the decision to cut B-2 orders from 75 to 20 aircraft was a foolish mistake:

“In 1991, I returned from the Gulf convinced that tomorrow’s air commanders required — and would indeed have — a fleet of sixty or more long-range stealthy bombers. Inexplicably, the B-2 fleet was slashed from seventy-five to twenty, undermining our ability to employ a newly relevant strategy.”

And yet, the cut was made – AFTER the Gulf War, in 1992 – and was confirmed by the Clinton Administration despite the pleas of several former Secretaries of Defense from both parties.

And remember, Gen. Horner developed that conviction in 1991, 21 years ago. Since then, America’s enemies’ air defense systems have become much deadlier than in 1991, while their assets have been buried under thick concrete.

As for B-2s, although they are stealthy, their stealth technology is, as General Norton Schwartz has said, “80s vintage.” It was developed decades ago. With the next few decades, these aircraft will no longer be low-observable or undetectable for America’s enemies, and will therefore lose their stealth penetration capability. So if they are not complemented soon enough by NGBs, America will completely lose its long-range strike capability and its capability to enter enemy airspace undetected from large distances (and to deliver large payloads to protected targets), thus making it impossible for the US to win some wars and therefore to achieve its political objectives, as well as gutting the bomber leg of the nuclear triad, which will lose its stealth penetration capability.

Let’s listen to what General Schwartz says, shall we?

“While the 20 B-2s in service are capable aircraft, their stealth technology is “ ’80s vintage,” Schwartz replied.

“The reality is that the B-2 over time will become less survivable in contested airspace,” he said.

Schwartz went even further Feb. 29, saying the Air Force needs to improve its technology to meet potential threats from China and Iran.

“Do you think that the Chinese have established one of the world’s best air defense environments in their eastern provinces just to invest their national treasure — or, for that matter, that the Iranians have established integrated air defenses around certain locations in their country?” he said.

“I would say they are not doing this for the fun of it; they’re doing it because they have a sense of vulnerability. And I ask you: What is it that conveys that sense of vulnerability to others? One of those things is long-range strike and that is an asset that the United States of America should not concede, and that’s why [the] long-range strike bomber is relevant and will continue to be relevant.””

And 20 stealthy bombers is a tiny fleet, totally inadequate to meet the US military’s needs.

As Jamestown’s Dr Carlo Kopp writes:

“China’s air defense system is maturing into the largest, most capable and technically advanced in Asia, and will be capable of inflicting very heavy attrition on any aircraft other than upper tier U.S. stealth systems. Until the U.S. deploys its planned “New Generation Bomber” post-2020, the United States will have only 180 F-22 Raptors and 20 B-2A Spirit bombers capable of penetrating the PLA’s defensive shield. This may not be enough to act as a credible non-nuclear strategic deterrent.”

The NGB project’s opponents also claim that the planned cost of one bomber – $550 mn – is unaffordable and excessive. But that is actually a low price for one stealthy long-range bomber which, as stated above, will actually save money in the long run. It’s worth it. Opponents claim, however, that the USAF won’t be able to achieve such a low price and that the bomber type’s cost will balloon. They’re wrong.

As stated by the USAF’s top leaders, the bomber will be given a lot of time to develop – more than a decade – before it enters service in the mid-2020s, will have precisely-defined, modestly ambitious requirements (no goldplated ones), and will use numerous existing technologies from existing aircraft (instead of having them made new for this aircraft type), probably including engines, landing gear, computers, AESA radars, bomb bay and landing gear bay doors, and crew escape mechanisms. That’s how F-117s were built – they featured many existing technologies from existing planes. And if these bombers are produced in large numbers (at least 100 copies), they will be affordable. The more of them are produced, the cheaper they will be. As the old adage rightly says, “they’re cheaper to buy by the dozen.”

The Air Force WILL, despite critics’ doomsday projections, deliver these aircraft on time and on budget, in accordance with its core value of Excellence In All We Do.

Meanwhile, the top Democrat on the HASC, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, doubts whether the NGB needs to be nuclear-capable, although he stresses that he hasn’t made up his mind yet and wants to know if making it conventional-capable-only would bring about any significant savings. He’s right to be cautious, because it wouldn’t. He is wrong, however, to claim that the delay of the next-gen USAF cruise missile is not a huge problem. It is. This next-gen CM type is long overdue. It must not be delayed at all. The delay is purely budget-driven.


UPDATE ON 10/6/2012: Holistic, peer-reviewed analysis by AirPowerAustralia clearly demonstrates that the Next Generation Bomber is needed:

Advanced Russian technology exports present a major strategic risk for the US, whether operated by China, or smaller players like Iran or Venezuela. These systems will deny access to most US ISR and combat aircraft, with only the B-2A, the “2018 bomber” and the F-22A designed to penetrate such defences. With its compromised X-band optimised stealth, the F-35 JSF will simply not be survivable in this environment.

The fallback position of standoff bombardment with cruise missiles is not viable. Only a fraction will reach their targets through such defences, and the economics of trading $500k cruise missiles for $100k interceptors, or hundreds of dollars of laser propellant, favour the defender. Time of flight is problematic given the high mobility of air defence targets, and targeting the cruise missiles no less problematic given denial of ISR coverage.

The US will require a penetrating capability for ISR collection and for lethal suppression of highly mobile SAM, laser and radio-frequency Directed Energy Weapon batteries. This is over and above the need to deliver saturation attacks with the Small Diameter Bomb against actual targets of strategic or tactical interest.

Current planning for 180 F-22As and the legacy fleet of 20 B-2As is simply not credible given the diversity of roles and missions, and sheer sortie count required to deal with anything above a trivial opponent.”

Got it?

UPDATE: On January 11th, 2013, in an op-ed for AOL Defense, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley (appointed by Gates) reaffirmed the need for the NGB, while also demonstrating how little this program, and bomber programs in general, cost compared to the USAF’s total modernization budget:

“The new Long-Range Strike bomber is one of our top priorities and encompasses approximately two percent of Air Force investment. An additional three percent over the next five years goes to sustain and modernize the B-52, B-1, and B-2 bombers to ensure these aging aircraft remain viable.”