Almost 30 years ago, the first stealth bomber of the U.S. Air Force took off for a flight. Now, the Air Force needs new equipment to phase out its aging fleet, which is primed for a makeover; albeit an expensive one.
The Pentagon is seriously evaluating the possibility to upgrade its stealth aircraft for the first time since the 1970s by developing a high-priority and super-classified next-generation bomber.
The bomber is expected to be required with the Long Range Strike capability. The contract is likely to be given to the industry’s most powerful firms later this year and there are hopes to integrate them into the fleet by the mid-2020s.
in 2014, the U.S. Air Force deployed two of its B-2 stealth bombers to Europe. The aim was to conduct training flights and become familiar with air bases and operations there. Northrop Grumman remains the force behind development and delivery of the B-2 Spirit to the U.S. Air Force. The firm is again competing for the prize and a partnership between aeronautic juggernauts Boeing and Lockheed Martin is expected as well.
Before the House Armed Services Committee earlier this month, William LaPlante, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, suggested the Air Force will offer a “cost-plus” contract to the winning firm, meaning the government will take on the risk of any cost overrun.
“My belief on the LRS-B (Long Range Strike Bomber) is it’s going to be more traditional in the sense that we are doing a little bit more cutting edge” development, LaPlante said.
The Air Force has plans to leverage existing technologies as it will help to keep the LRS-B affordable.
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent, nonpartisan research group, is of the view that “near-sighted, build-for-today acquisition strategies may render the issue of ‘affordability’ moot, as affordability must also be assessed in the context of a capability’s mission effectiveness over its projected lifespan.”
Along with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the KC-46 tanker, the LRS-B becomes one of the Air Force’s top modernization priorities. Some industry experts say its development will go far beyond simply upgrading an aging bomber fleet.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula told CNN this week that it is inaccurate to label the LRS-B as simply a “bomber” and that officials need to shed the “old think” way of categorizing airplanes into different mission areas.
The new “Long Range Sensor Shooter,” as Deptula calls it, will have the ability to create a self-forming, self-healing “combat cloud” capable of sharing information with other aircraft and conducting a diverse array of operation types.
Near Pentagon, developing the new long-range strike bomber is really important as it is critical to national security and nuclear deterrence.
It is “absolutely essential for keeping our deterrent edge,” former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in January. “We need to do it. We need to make the investments. We’ll have it in the budget.”
Officials have been tight-lipped as to the specific capability expectations for the LRS-B so far. But, there is high probability that the plane will be stealth, able to carry conventional and nuclear weapons. With pilot and without a pilot, both versions are expected.
Generally speaking, Deptula said the LRS-B must have long-range capabilities, be able to carry a large payload, have high survivability and have sufficient adaptability to incorporate evolving sensor and weapon technology.
Long-range capability will provide the Air Force with the flexibility to respond to threats around the world and reach deep into enemy territory whenever there is need to hit fixed and mobile targets unreachable by cruise missiles.
Large payload capability will allow operations with fewer aircraft and increases loiter capability and efficiency, he said.
Modernized stealth tactics and upgraded electronic warfare capabilities would allow the aircraft to enter enemy airspace without suffering prohibitive losses.