The 2018 Bomber: Increased Range, Loiter & Lethality.
The Pentagon’s most recent Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) included provisions for the USAF to undertake development of a new long-range, large-payload, subsonic, low radar cross-section bomber program in response to a marked increase in operational requirements primarily surfaced from combat operations in Southwest Asia. Air Force planners identified the desired ability to fly long-range sorties from increasingly scarce remote bases, safely penetrate adversarial air-space defended by advanced air defense systems, provide persistent air support (linger longer), and deliver a larger payload of emerging standoff precision guided munitions to a multitude of ground targets as being the key tenets of the baseline operational requirements. The US Air Force 2018 Bomber program is expected to acquire between 100 and 120 units with an initial operating capability (IOC) target of 2018.
In response to these key performance challenges, the usual industry suspects have responded with two significant development programs. Lockheed Martin and Boeing have created a teaming arrangement to advance studies and system development initiatives in pursuit of the opportunity, and have taken a collaborative approach to developing new electronic warfare solutions focusing on an array of sensors and network enabled battle management, command and control fusion systems. As the developer and prime contractor of the B-2 Spirit, Northrop Grumman is also expected to undertake a design effort based on the X-47B unmanned air vehicle and combat system.
The technology required to deliver the 2018 Bomber program requirements will represent an increase in performance over the capabilities of the F-22 Raptor and the B-2 Spirit, manned systems that remain classified. This reality would undoubtedly prevent Congress from authorizing export to allied nations, thereby risking potentially prohibitive unit costs from RDT&E through to LRIP and sustainment.
In our analysis, we will explore the boundary between the military usefulness of the 2018 Bomber program against the current force reset needs and shifting transformation acquisition programs as the DoD struggles to strike a balance between the successful prosecution of current combat operations and planning for the right war(s) of the future.
Strategic Air Power & Conventional Warfare
The belief that air power alone might supplant armies and navies as war-winning instruments of power arose as a viable operational construct following successful experiments in the aerial bombing of captured German Battleships following the First World War. Although Britain had used air power to defend it’s vast colonial empire and home base through the employment of “strategic bombing” in the latter half of the First World War through the creation of an autonomous Air Force in 1918, it was not until the Italian Giulio Douhet’s 1921 book “Command of the Air” that a comprehensive theory of air strategy beyond the established broad deterrence concepts emerged. His position espoused the futility of bombarding the periphery of enemy territory where only deployed combat formations could be destroyed. His logic required that air power be deployed against the war-making capacity of adversaries by targeting war production factories and deployment infrastructure. His vision prophesies how bombing offensives would achieve desired objectives so quickly that the outcome of all future wars would be decided before an adversary could fully deploy their combatant army and navy. In this respect, he had foreseen the logic of the nuclear “first strike” concept of operations more than two decades before the emergence of nuclear WMD.
Meanwhile in the United States, General William Mitchell emerged as the foremost proponent of the independent air power concept. He campaigned for the establishment of the Air Force Service with such insubordinate enthusiasm that in 1925 he was forced to defend his ideology at court martial. When the United States Army Air Force Flying Fortress Bombers finally emerged in 1942, they were deployed against Germany in deep penetration raids under the misguided ideals of Douhet’s vision. Though not without significant contribution, the unlearning of this ideology was to be one of the most painful and costly of the Second World War, with losses (as a percentage of forces deployed) only exceeded by the German U-Boat service.
While there are numerous examples of employing long-range bombing assets in determining the outcome of epic struggles between adversaries, few seem more prescient than Goerings exploits with the Luftwaffe in response to Fuehrer Directive Number 16 (Preparations for a landing operation against England) on 16 July, 1940. The ensuing Battle of Britain pitted the RAF Fighter Command in a revolutionary struggle against the German Luftwaffe in a five phased campaign that for the first time, singularly employed aircraft in a strategy intended to break the British Nation of it’s will and capacity to resist without the use of ground or maritime forces. Goering deployed his aircraft fleets in the face of considerable disadvantages (such as operational range to target, fuel capacity constraints, and the necessity for pilots to bail out of damaged aircraft over enemy territory or drown in the channel). He employed no considered strategy and engaged in a series of improvised attack schemas without lucid consideration. Meanwhile, Fighter Command enjoyed the advantage of operating close to its own bases and would employ an integrated warning and control system drawing on intelligence presented by the Ground Observer Corps and the new Chain Home line of fifty radar warning stations (a British invention credited to Robert Watson-Watt of the National Physical Laboratory) that lined the coast under the development and control of the Air Ministry.
A flight of Heinkel HE 111 medium bombers approach the coast of England flying low over the channel. Such formations became a familiar site to Londoners, the HE 111 being the major type in these raids. Originally conceived as a civil airliner for Lufthansa, it was employed by the Luftwaffe in a large number of variants as one of the most flexible German designs of the war. The HE 111 was also exported for operation by the air forces of China, Hungary, Romania, Spain and Turkey.
It is inconceivable that on only one occasion throughout the entire campaign (operation Eagle on 12 August) did Goerings Luftwaffe attack the Chain Home Radars – the RAF’s primary sensor system that alerted Fighter Command to the distance, bearing, height and speed of the approaching Dornier 17, Heinkel 111, Junkers 88 and Junkers 87 bombers and their fighter escorts. Following months of horrifying losses of aircraft and crews by both sides, the Germans finally recognized the gravity of the aerial stalemate that had resulted, and coincident with the closure of the amphibious operational season, Hitler announced the indefinite postponement of Operation Sea Lion, having no appetite to risk 36 of his best combat divisions on the choppy channel.
Figure 1: Aircraft Losses – Battle of Britain
|RAF Fighter Command||Fighters||832||Luftwaffe||Fighters||668||Bombers||600|
Only 2500 young RAF pilots had been responsible for preserving Britain from invasion – the narrow victory inspiring Churchill’s famous accolades. Through the use of unprecedented situational awareness delivered by the innovation of radar combined with pragmatic command and control operations, the RAF delivered unacceptable battle losses (see figure 1) in handing Nazi Germany their first defeat.
Memo to the Kampfverbande
From: Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding
The greatest prize is to obtain and employ militarily useful information while denying it to the enemy. That is all . . .
There has obviously been much experience in the use of air power assets since the close of World War II. Israeli attacks on Egyptian Air bases in 1967 showed the dramatic potential of surprise air attack, while in 1973 the Israelis suffered an equal surprise in the initial stages of the Yom Kippur war at the hands of a Soviet supplied Egyptian Air Defense system comprising surface-to-air missiles and radar enhanced guns. Over North Vietnam the US Air Force executed temporarily effective supply interdiction bombing missions while experiencing the hazards of a modern air defense based on guided missiles, AAA guns and interceptors. In the 1979 Soviet incursion into Afghanistan, ground attack by fixed-wing and rotary aircraft operated with relative impunity against highly motivated but poorly equipped irregulars until the arrival of US supplied shoulder-launched heat-seeking stinger missiles.
While these experiences draw mixed conclusions, the common operational trait is one of deception. Modern air vehicles utilize chaff, flairs, smoke, decoys and electronic countermeasures as well as their speed, capacity to reduce radar cross-section (stealth) or fly beyond the operational envelope of radar detection. Increasingly, emerging stand-off weapons enable costly aircraft to evade sophisticated air-defense systems while deploying precision guided glide munitions (PGM) utilizing multi-mode target acquisition technology against moving targets, day or night, in all weather conditions.
At the same time, conventional ground forces typically use concealment, camouflage, mobility, hardening and active air defenses to repel air attacks.
Figure 2: Primary Air Strike Targets
|Air Bases||Air Defense Fighter Concentrations||Air Defense Systems||Surface-to-Air Missiles||Command Centers||Road Net Choke Points||Bridges||Munitions Bunkers||CBRN Weapons Stores||Tactical and Theatre Missile Launch Sites||Television and Media Infrastructure|
Editors Note: For our readers with a deeper interest, we have developed on this site a considerable body of material related to the exploits of the Israeli Air Force (IAF), the successful use of airborne command and control assets during the Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) campaign, and the new requirements for employing close air support (CAS) in counter-insurgency military operations:
Bombs Away – IDF Mastery of the Precision Air Strike
IAF Victory in Operation Moked
Russian Bear Arms Arab States: The Yom Kippur War 35 Years On
Arab Military Forces Quietly Modernize With Russian Exports
Ka-Boom: COIN Mission Support Requires New ISR & Weapons Effects Doctrine
Close Air Support receives call for transformation to support counterinsurgency missions.
Warheads on Foreheads
Close Air Support Engagement: An OIF Retrospective
A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle aircraft intercepts a Russian Tu-95 Bear bomber aircraft which neared the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) south of Japan Feb. 9, 2008. The bomber neared the vicinity of the carrier resulting in the fighter intercept. Nimitz was transiting through the Western Pacific on a regularly scheduled deployment when the incident occurred. DoD photo courtesy of U.S. Navy. (Released).
Nowhere to Hide
Since the close of the cold war, the nature of military conflict has dramatically shifted away from conventional warfare. Unstable or failed nation states and the emergence of troublesome non-state actors employing asymmetrical, insurgency, destabilization tactics and the prolific use of improvised explosive devices (IED) have dramatically re-shaped the mission requirements of the contemporary war fighter.
As military planners at the Pentagon advance rapid deployment acquisition efforts, industry has responded by developing a new array of technological innovations. Perhaps nowhere has their innovation effort made a greater impact on combat operations than the fielding of unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) air vehicles and highly accurate and lethal PGM’s.
Developed for specific CAS applications, the new ordinance includes multi-mode target acquisition (EO/IR & GPS), standoff deployment, autonomous operation, high angle of attack, all-weather and moving target capability, and new effects outcomes including low collateral damage, thermobaric oxygen depletion and electromagnetic pulse waves to name just a few (see figure 3).
Figure 3: Advanced Precision Guided Glide Weapons
|Name||Type||Weight||Guidance||Boeing GBU-31 (JDAM)||Mk. 84 blast/fragmentation||2,000 lb.||GPS aided inertial||Boeing GBU-32 (JDAM)||Mk. 83 blast/fragmentation||1,000 lb.||GPS aided inertial||Boeing GBU-39 (SDB)||Multi. blast/frag./penetrating||250 lb.||GPS aided inertial||Lockheed GBU-10 (Paveway 2)||Mk. 84 blast/fragmentation||2,000 lb.||Laser-homing||Lockheed DMLGB-12 (Paveway)||Mk. 82 blast/fragmentation||500 lb.||Laser/INS/GPS *||Lockheed DMLGB-10 (Paveway)||Mk. 84 blast/fragmentation||2000 lb.||Laser/INS/GPS **||Raytheon AGM-154A (JSOW)||BLU-97 Sub-munitions||500 lb.||Inertial & GPS||Raytheon AGM-154A-1||BLU-111||500 lb.||Inertial,GPS,IIR **||Raytheon EGBU-10 E (Paveway 2)||Mk. 84 blast/fragmentation||2,000 lb.||Inertial,GPS,Laser ***|
|*||In demonstration.||**||In development.||***||GPS enables all-weather, off axis telemetry while maintaining laser homing.|
Big Ugly Fat Fellow
No discussion of contemporary heavy bomber employment can exclude the remarkable history of the venerable B-52 Statofortress. The B-52 can carry a large variety of weapons including eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles and 20 cruise missiles. The B-52 has seen a lot of action in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf Wars, in the Balkans and over Afghanistan. With a maximum takeoff weight of 240-250 tons, the B-52 is basically a large aircraft designed to carry bombs cheaply and efficiently.
Currently, the B-52 force is limited by law to 76 aircraft. The current four squadrons each have 14 bombers and 17 crews. The remaining aircraft are assigned to a training squadron. Twenty B-52s will receive electronic and mechanical upgrades that will make all 76 of equal capability. To obtain the aircraft for the fifth squadron, each unit will be reduced to 13 aircraft and 15 crews. The active duty training squadron will become the fifth operational squadron, and the reserve training squadron will take over all the training duties it used to share with the active duty squadron.
A B-52 Stratofortress flies past the USS Nimitz as two U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornets intercept. The B-52 is from the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. (U.S. Navy photo released).
The B-52 is the operationally least expensive heavy bomber in the air force. Many are based on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia when they are supporting operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. During the Afghanistan war in late 2001, ten B-52s dropped a third of the total bomb tonnage. That’s a remarkable record for a fifty-year-old aircraft design. The B-52 delivered the predominance of munitions because, simply stated, it is still the most cost-effective heavy bomber within the USAF arsenal. The B-52 has a lower accident rate than the B-1 and B-2. Compared to the supersonic B-1 and high-tech B-2, the B-52 is more like a flying truck. Thus the B-52, despite its age, remains the cheapest, safest and most reliable way to deliver PGM over Afghanistan.
Lacking the supersonic speed of the B-1 or the stealth and automation of the B-2, the B-52 can carry up to 150 tons of fuel, and normally carries 12-20 tons of munitions. What has made the B-52 so useful in the Afghanistan war is its ability to stay aloft for prolonged sorties. The B-52s flying out of the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia into Afghanistan typically stay in the air for some 16 hours. Since it can refuel in the air, the B-52 can fly anywhere in the world with a load of bombs or missiles.
Over Afghanistan, carrying a dozen 2000-pound PGM or a larger number of smaller bombs, a B-52 could remain on station on the perimeter of a combat area for hours, waiting for the Special Forces or Air Force joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC’s) on the ground to send them the coordinates of a target. Over 90 percent of the time the PGM landed well within 50 feet of the target location. More importantly, most of the air-support arrived within ten minutes of the JTAC request.
B-1B aircrews bring unique capabilities to the fight. Captain Chad Hillen and Captain Aaron Wargo work their way through preflight checklists from the cockpit of a B-1B Lancer Dec. 9 at an air base in Southwest Asia. Captain Hillen is a B-1B pilot and native of Sewell, N.J. Captain Wargo hails from Garden Grove, Calif. They are both pilots assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. (U.S. Air Force photo released).
Do They Really Need That?
Today, success in air war depends in large part on an electronic contest, with electronic measures, counter-measures, and counter counter-measures. The technology employed in this contest is evolving rapidly with many new devices used within joint and coalition operational doctrine. However, the cost to develop, test, integrate and (most costly) maintain these innovations within air vehicle fleets makes them some of the most expensive acquisition programs in the military.
As the looming future years defense budget appropriations debate rages in Washington between COCOMS, the DoD and the Senate Armed Services Committee, Industry continues to jockey for position relative to the efficacy of their respective programs and interests. There is no shortage of armchair prognosticators with a penchant to theoretically disprove their detractors’ positions. However, there is an emerging consensus regarding which programs will attract the greatest scrutiny as the need to create a balance between current needs and those required to fight the long war are formally debated (see figure 4).
Figure 4: Acquisition Programs Under Review
|Service||Acquisition Program||USAF||F-22 (production extension v. potential cancellation in 2010)||USAF||F-35 Conventional-Take-Off-Landing (CTOL)||USAF||C-17 production extension||USAF||KC-X Tanker re-competition||USAF||Combat-Search-and-Rescue-Helicopter competition (CSAR-X)||Navy/USMC||DDG 1000 v. DDG-51 production||Navy/USMC||Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)||Navy/USMC||F-35 Short-Take-Off-Vertical-Landing (STOVL)||Navy/USMC||Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV)||Navy/USMC||F/A-18E/F Super Hornet||Navy/USMC||V-22 Osprey Tilt Rotor||Navy/USMC||CH-53K||Army||Future Combat Systems (FCS)||Army||Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV)||Army||MRAP All-Terrain-Vehicle (MRAP ATV)||Army||Stryker fresh production||Army||Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH)|
Cleared for Takeoff?
There is little doubt that the baseline requirements identified by the USAF and COCOMS for improved heavy bomber CAS will save lives while delivering incrementally useful militarily capability in the new fight. With an operational radius of action between 2,000 and 3,000 nautical miles (without aerial refueling), a maximum payload of 14,000 –28,000 lbs, and enough stealth to evade ever-more prolific and capable air-defense systems, the 2018 Bomber would address the present standoff weapons deployment deficiency gap inherent in the B-52 and B-1 fleets.
Weighty decisions have fallen on the DoD with the acute need to reset the force following a decade of combat operations in Iraq, fresh deployments to Afghanistan without a discernable victory strategy, consolidation of incredibly expensive multi-mission fighter programs into only two systems (The F-35 and the F-22), to say nothing of the global financial meltdown and the potential for new conflicts brought on by economically failed states requiring re-stabilization. Difficult times demand tough choices – and it remains to be seen if the 2018 bomber will ever get off the ground.
About the Author
I am an accomplished advanced and disruptive technology analyst. I help organizations manage their overall marketing strategy and efforts including market analysis, identification of business opportunities and risks, strategic alliances and partnering, systems engineering and customer requirements, business development programs and marketing, advertising and communications initiatives & plans.
For office hours and contact information, please use this sites contact form.