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Why not just have the new tanker do that, too?

USAF Proposes a C/B-17

Strategy Page notes that the Air Force is looking at ways to utilize the C-17 transport as a “flying aircraft carrier” for Dominator UAVs and possibly even as a JDAM bomber.

Murdoc’s not so sure about the one-use Dominator, though I can see where they would be useful in the right situations. But as for the JDAM bomber: Please! and Soon!

Murdoc has long supported the idea of a B-747 or some such plane orbiting ultra-high above a battle zone loaded with various sizes of GPS-guided bombs. A call comes in, someone punches in the coordinates and hits the red button, and bombs away! Orbiting real high would give the plane a very large area of responsibility and protect it from most air defenses. This would be a system only for places where we have air superiority, but that’s going to be most places most of the time.

Murdoc doesn’t care if this is a 747, a 767, a C-17, or the Spruce Goose. He just wants it big and loaded to the gills with JDAMs, circling way up there with short-order firepower.

Go read the Strategy Page post for more on the C-17/Dominator idea.


  1. Yes, not a bad idea, but a couple of things. First the plane would want to turn towards the target before hitting the red button. This would extend the bomb’s range as it won’t have to bleed off energy in a turn. I don’t think JDAMs turn particularly fast. Secondly, faster planes can lob bombs further. The planes you mentioned can all fly pretty fast (somewhere near 0.8-0.9 mach) however if they’re loitering they’ll probably be flying slower, which will reduce the range of any bombs they drop, unless they accelerate after they turn towards the target. Still, the bombs can probably go pretty far from high enough up without having to be dropped at high speed. Third, not sure that any of those planes are going to fly unusually high with a heavy load. If they’re not carrying many bombs compared to their normal cargo capacity (quite likely as most of the ones you mentioned are quite big) then maybe they can get fairly high (40-50k feet), but it takes long wings and tweaked engines to get much higher than that I think. Look at how funky the U-2 or R/S-71 (SR-71) are, for their high-altitude and/or high-speed capabilities. But basically, if most of the action is happening within a 30-40 mile radius (e.g. Baghdad) – the likely range of munitions dropped from an orbiting platform – then it could work pretty well.

  2. Murdoc, Isn’t that what the B-52 is for? How about this though – some big jet (747 or whaterver) loaded out with, say 100 ultra long range AAMs? Saa-weeet!!

  3. The Dominator concept sounds like an expensive solution to a non-existant problem. Basically it appears to be either a area denial weapon or assassination/terror device. In either event, we have other craft/uav’s that can do the job. As for making a B-17, for specail purpose bombs – daisy cutter, MOAB – yes a B-17 is just fine. As a JDAM carrier? only as an emergency bomber of last resort. We have far too many uses for a C-17. To upgrade a C-17 to handle the various weapon load outs, wiring, and communication gear, would cost a pretty penny. Let alone dealing with the fact that a C-17’s electronic defenses and counter measures are nowhere near combat mission capable. In theory, you could data link multiple C-17’s, so that you could load one C-17 with a command on cummication pallets so it could handle the targeting and uplink needs. All that aside, a C-17 would not be an efficient bomber. Bombing and cargo handling require different flight profiles and design requirements. Palletize bombs could be carried – but bulk loading of JDAMS would be impractical. Not to mention that high altitude drops in a C-17 is dangerous undertaking.(It sucks to get the bends while flying) The last time I checked only about 350 airmen are qualified to do a high altitude drop. Now, bulk loading of your oversized ordinance is very practical – IE Daisy Cutters, MOAB, and there are some tales about a really nice (but really heavy) supercaptivating ground penitrator.

  4. James, I don’t know that it is an entirely nonexistant problem. The existing bombers – B1, B2, B52, are not exactly suited to a role of loitering over a combat zone ready to drop bombs on a moment’s notice. The B52 is closest to this, but is expensive to fly and rather old. I do agree, though, that taking C17s from where they are needed and useful – in a logistics role, is probably a bad idea. The advantage to using a commercial airliner as a bomber is that airliners are designed to be fuel efficient. We already use airliners in several military roles – as AWACS planes, tankers, and for moving troops (either leased, or when they take over civilian planes.) Some of these roles already put the planes near the battlefield. A modified Boeing 777 – with rotary bomb dispensers or something like that – could orbit over the battlefield for hours and hours. It’d have real staying power, and would be a complement to the AC130. Where the Spectre does CAS/direct fire, the B777 would be like the heavy artillery. At high altitude, a plane like that could cover a lot of ground.

  5. The problem with the total focus on air support is, it is not always there. I am an old cannon cocker. Artillery is the thing left behind in Afganistan. Dependency is placed on two things; Air, and mortars. Big mistake. Not a Good Day to Die : The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda (Hardcover) by Sean Naylor. Air was not always there, and the ability of Infantry to support mortars is limited. Artillery was left behind and the ground pounders paid in blood. As we all know in Somalia ‘Blackhawk Down’ artillery on call would have made a major difference, had it been there. The real debate going on, within the Marines, and probably Army too as to what artillery, and what mix is simmering under the surface. The Commandant of Marines just assigned Marine Artillery the additional mission of Civil Affairs. Adjusting to a different kind of war with limited assets is what drives this. Within the Marines the debate rages on concerning fire support. Should it be 120mm mortars, magic new auto mortars, or are we forgetting that a 105mm howitzer has huge advantages over any mortar. We all know that the M198 is a basic iron pig. There are lighter 155mm’s being developed. I suspect that we are going to rediscover the advantages of artillery vs air and mortars one more time. I hope it doesn’t cost a lot of lives.

  6. Artillery is the queen of the battlefield, true. But more suited to full on battles, now that we have nifty gps bombs and what not. The advantage of something like a B777 would be that it *would* be there. With very long loiter times, and far greater mobility than ground-bound artillery, this kind of air support would be much more ‘present’ than what we have now. Of course, more and better mortars wouldn’t hurt either.

  7. Oh by the way, here is a glimpse of the new Israeli F-161 that is likely to star in the upcoming epic called, Iran’s former nuke labs. this March. The problem with mortars is twofold as explained Operation Acanonda, one dependency on air for resupply, which did not happen for a number of reasons. The books explains it well, two range limitation and inaccuracies based on the slow high characteristics of a mortar shot. Air was just plain not there. So more of what may not be there, is weak.

  8. IIRC the F-16I CFTs hold 3000lbs of extra fuel (in addition to the ~7300lbs of internal fuel). That’s roughly the equivalent of a single wing droptank, or enough to extend range by about 250nm or loiter times by about an hour, assuming a high altitude flight profile during the cruise/loiter portions of the flight. Supposedly they don’t impair the maneuverability of the aircraft at all and are rated to the same number of Gs as the airframe, which is pretty nice. I guess that means for a long-range mission the plane would have ~10300lbs internal fuel, 3000lbs in two wing drop tanks and possibly another ~2000lbs in an underfuselage drop tank for a total of around 18300lbs of fuel and a maximum takeoff weight of 52000lbs. I think F-15Is will be doing the ‘heavy lifting’ though. F-16Is will probably be used for SAM/AD suppression and top cover, since their range is more severely impaired by the weight of bombs than the F-15Is would be.

  9. The idea of a C-17 dropping bombs is silly. Or even a 777 for that matter. Unless as stated, we design a rotary dispenser, which is stupidly expensive due to the way the a/c fuselage structure is built and thus how it would be modified. The C-17 is slightly more practical, in that there would hopefully be little structural modification necessary. What you have to understand is that dropping part of the JDAM load would be difficult. There normally is already the C.G. shift to contend with, but if this is done until the a/c is semi-loaded could end up making the a/c uncontrollable. Hence a complex computerised drop system would have to be employed. One which allows each ‘bomb-crate’ to be shifted independantly. Remember it is normally dropped with the aid of gravity and the drogue chute. Remember that if you put bombs on the outside of the a/c the drag will increase excessively making it impractical at least for a high altitude long endurance mission. In my view this is an expensive idea, that a couple of artillery units, or even a single loitering b-52 could do for a much lower cost. Why not re-engine a b-52 for this role?

  10. Buckethead – We already have long duration UAV’s and more comming soon. The Dominator concept is for single use UAV that orbits an area searching for targets. In my view – a waste of money. No if the UAV flew home to be reused, and had the ability to be retargeted in flight – well then it is a different story. Orbiting 777’s sounds nice, but is not all that practical unless we would have to be willing to commit the funds to properly outfit the plane. Remember we will not always have uncontested control of the air – and if we do, it become irrelevant what kind of bird is in the air- as long as you can drop a bomb from it. A Rotary Launcher in a non-stealth plane is a waste of resources. You incrase maintence/ operation costs while reducing your payload capasity. That said, to modify a 777 for combat duty would be a significant cost issue. Upgrading the B-52 would be cheaper in my view. As for the B-52 – they should fund the reengine plan. That would allow the BUFF to generate enough power to support the new pods & increase its fuel efficiency. Given the price of gas – that would be a big plus. Age with respect to the B-52 is irrelevant, its ability to perform the mission is paramount. There is nothing a modified 777 can do that a B-52 can currently do with respect to bombing. The issue with artilllery vs air – 1st is that currently bombs are more accurate then artillery. 2nd) air units can have their logistical support based in a non-combat area. Making a bomb accurate is lot easier then artillery. Yes, you can bring up the copperhead – but a half million dollar artillery shell is pushing it. A 17K JDAM kit can work wonders with a 500 lbs bomb. If the Army can get the Excalibur round mass produced, artillery will have something to bring the party. Personally, I think the Army should lean more to guided heavy mortar rounds.

  11. Mortars in Afganistan proved to be nearly a non entity. There was no field artillery. Anaconda is exhibit A. In the invasion of Iraq, mortars missed ‘in position ready to fire’ repeatedly due to the fast pace of movement, plus their short range. The M198 did not have those problems. Plus the howitzers fired when air could not fly. I have operated both cannon artillery, and mortars. I have operated as an artie type and as infantry. The only time that field artillery was not responsive in my experience is the first part of an amphib operation. The resourses available for support then are air and naval gunfire, untill the arty gets ashore and in position. I have seen mortars brought out of mothballs and employed, and put back a number of times. Reason, not as good as even a 105mm towed howitzer. Artillery accuracy is really not bad. Matter of fact usually very good. Much better than mortars, and much more flexible in terms of range and organic resupply. But I suppose after a brief love affair with mortars that fact will once again be discovered. Cannon cockers are sometimes like a fireman. No one has any use for them till there is a fire.

  12. A howitzer is an army’s best friend. However given the current political enviornment – the artillery’s accuracy is questioned. There is not much tolerrance for walking barrages to the target. The current ‘love’ affair with mortars and bombs is due to physics. Its easier to include precision targeting devices in these weapons. The second, reason is that bombs and mortars have a shorter logicistics tails. That said, there will always be a place at the table for artillery.

  13. Artillery is the queen of the battlefield, true. But more suited to full on battles, now that we have nifty gps bombs and what not.’ Side note Buckethead Actually the Army calls Artillery the King of battle, Infantry is the Queen. It’s the job of the king to put the balls where the queen wants them.