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