Still shooting for a new bomber by 2018

USAF looks for a more modest B-2 successor

FB-22 Strike Raptor

The USAF provided potential bidders with an analysis of alternatives (AoA) spelling out basic requirements in May. The companies say the USAF is looking for a high-speed, subsonic stealth bomber with an unrefuelled range of at least 2000 n miles and the capacity to carry payloads between 6,350 kg and 12,700 kg.

Northrop Grumman predicted that those requirements would require a bomber with a wingspan about two thirds the size of the company’s B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

USAF generals speaking at an Air Force Association conference on 25 September said they prefer basic requirements to more sophisticated proposals, such as an unmanned bomber capable of subsonic flight, because they want a realistic attempt at a new stealth bomber in 2018.

Upgrades of the bomber will have to come later, the generals said. “This is going to be technology that we know we can get to,” said outgoing chief of Air Combat Command General Ronald Keys. “Then we will do block upgrades,” he said. Three US defence giants – Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing – have submitted several possible bomber designs based on requirements laid out in the USAF’s AoA.

The 2,000 mile range and payload requirements seem to be a bit out of the reach of the proposed FB-22 bomber version of the Raptor fighter, though there’s probably ways to meet those numbers. I continue to suspect that the FB-22, or an offshoot of it, is going to be on the short list.

I also continue to think that there’s a place for another big slow bomb platform, something along the lines of a B-767. The B-52 continues to prove its worth over low-tech battlefields, and that’s where we’re going to be doing a lot of fighting in the coming decades. Though obviously not useful in an attack on a heavily-defended enemy, a huge lumbering JDAM platform that can orbit the brushfire battlefield for hours might be just what the doctor ordered for the boot on the ground conducting counter-insurgency operations and low-intensity warfare against low-tech adversaries.

For more info, see Air Force Magazine’s Great Expectations


  1. In some circles the B-767 concept keeps getting shot down by aviation cognoscenti who insist that the airframe of a cargo aircraft is ill-suited to the task. Personally I’m unconvinced, given the skill and resources of our engineers. Furthermore I believe that if the Air Force leadership truly gave a damn about CAS and wanted a B-767, it would already be flying. Perhaps someone like Dfens can add some useful commentary?

  2. Good to know that the B-2 know has a special coat that increases stealthness while decreasing maintanace cost. That is doing things in a smart way.

  3. Maybe I am missing something, but those specs are basically calling for FB-111. So it looks like the infamous missing stealth link is rearing its head. It struck people odd that you have a light bomber (F-117) and heavy bomber (B-2) and no medium bomber. Unfortunately, I do not see a compelling rationale for building such a plane. This concept of penetrating maned bomber seems like a waste on two grounds. First off its far easier and more effective to build high stealth missiles and precision munitions to degrade the air defenses. Then you can bring in your maned heavy bombers. Secondly, the original rational for this bomber was to provide enhance coverage for the pacific theater. It’s to slow, and has too short legs to be of use in the pacific. More over a high subsonic bomber is no better then what we already have. Even more so, the I would call into question the utility of a medium bomber in this era of precision weapons. The utility of parking a high endurance, high capacity heavy bomber is well proven. Light fighter bombers provide the ability to strike multiple displaced targets, using a number of air frames to make up for lack of ordinance. A medium bomber as called for, lacks the endurance to stay on mission for extended periods. Its size, means the crew has to stay in the cockpit for hours (no fun). Its additional weapon load, would provide only a marginal benefit. An F-15E can carry a similar load and has a much higher performance range. What we really need is either a ultra high capasity replacement for the B-52 (My favorite is the multi-mission blended wing concept.) or a high mach number bomber. (A modern version of the B-70 valkyrie) Both concepts have strong tactical and strategic uses.

  4. capacity to carry payloads between 6,350 kg and 12,700 kg. The mission is to drop 12 kilos of bombs on the enemy . . . check. Boy I sure do wish we had the ability to field Project Thor.

  5. USAF generals speaking at an Air Force Association conference on 25 September said they prefer basic requirements to more sophisticated proposals, such as an unmanned bomber capable of subsonic flight…’ Got to protect those bomber jocks. Can’t have them replaced by machines, now!

  6. Regardless of technical capability, it’s politically infeasible to field unmanned combat aircraft now or in the near future and that tends to trump technical issues. I agree that a system for destroying things on a short notice is worth having. So far, I’ve seen these proposals. 1.) A hypersonic bomber. Expensive, and requires lots of development. Also likely to loose points on survivability; the B-70 was doomed by the SA-2, and I would bet that an S-400 battery would stand a good chance of stopping a modern equivalent. 2.) Hypersonic fire-and-forget weapon. See #1. 3.) Conventional-armed ballistic missiles. The technology exists, but there are sizable political obstacles to overcome. Plus, it’s a damned expensive way to deliver a bomb. 4.) Orbital bombardment (‘Rods From God’, Project Thor, etc.). Expensive development, even more expensive deployment, and a different flavor of political opposition. If spacelift were to suddenly become affordable, however, #4 would be much more palatable- to me, at least. 5.) This system. The capabilities aren’t as grand, but there aren’t any monster engineering hurdles to clear. It’s expensive, but not as expensive as the other options (possibly excepting #3). And it could still be used in low-intensity conflicts as on-call air support. It’s got longer legs and a bigger- stealthy- payload than the F-35, and teams well with the F-22. It’s sort of an obvious choice if you’re a risk-averse committee of generals. All that aside, it’s still a shame that the Air Force isn’t trying to push the envelope and build something that flies at Mach 3, is impossible to shoot down, can cross the Pacific without a drink, and uses grain alcohol for fuel. Bonus points if the only waste product is ice cream.

  7. Missile’s very rarely doom any aircraft. They can raise the threat level to the point that the attacker decides to go another way. In any event, the SA-2 would of been a minor threat to the B-60. (see a thousand or so SA-2 launches vs Black Brids) S-400? I’ll believe it when I see the White Sands test results. In any event, the death of aircraft due to application of new super missiles has been proclaimed at least a dozen times. The only time that those proclamations proved true is when the brass falls for the line and orders fighters to armed only with missiles. (See F4 pilots shot down by obsolete Migs.)

  8. The Air Farce will probably be flying this new waste of money before the Army replaces my designed in the 1950’s POS rifle.