Next Generation Bomber Survives Budget Tightening

The U.S. Air Force continues work on designs for a stealthy, high-tech, next-generation Long Range Strike-Bomber ready for initial operating capability sometime during the 2020s and able to replace portions of the aging fleet of  B-2s and B-52s, service officials confirmed.

The Air Force acquisition strategy for the next generation bomber, for which the service requested approximately $400 million in the President’s FY14 budget, is to achieve a leap-ahead in long-range strike capability, stealth characteristics, communications gear and weaponry, service officials explained.

While much of the program details and its desired capabilities remain secret, there are a few available or known attributes sought after for the system. Extended range to potentially counter Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) challenges, fuel efficiency and an ability to operate in a more challenging or contested electro-magnetic or “jamming” environment are among the key attributes.

The service is hoping for the next generation bomber to be able to fly farther, have more robust abilities against enemy air defenses and carry advanced, next-generation weaponry to improve strike capabilities. An Initial Capabilities Document has been drafted for the LRS-B, the details of which are classified, service officials said.

However, long-range strike capability, which brings the ability to attack or destroy enemy air defenses and ballistic missile launch sites while eluding detection, is considered to be a key element of the Pentagon’s much-discussed Air-Sea Battle operating concept.

The Air Force plans to build 100 LRS-B aircraft, at a per unit price of about $550 million per plane. The LRS-B will be nuclear-capable and potentially have the technological capability to be unmanned, said Ed Gulick, Air Force spokesman.

“The baseline LRS-B aircraft will be delivered with the features and components necessary for the nuclear mission and ensure nuclear certification is complete within two years after Initial Operating Capability,” Gulick said in written responses to Military.com questions.

At the same time, the Air Force is hoping to leverage the best available industry technologies in order to keep costs down. The idea with this approach, naturally, is to avoid the kind of cost and schedule overruns which can accompany these kinds of acquisition efforts.

“The LRS-B program is leveraging mature technologies and existing systems to reduce development risk and minimize concurrency in integration and test. In addition, the Air Force is constraining requirements to enable stable, efficient, and affordable development and production efforts parameters,” Gulick added.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Davis

    Good to see this survived budget cuts. Our strategic bomber fleet is one of our best and most irreplaceable parts of our power projection capabilities. Can’t wait to actually see what the prototype will look like too. Its hard to imagine something being more bad@$$ than the B-2. Whatever it will be, hopefully the procurement will go smoother than the F-35.

  • USS ENTERPRISE

    US about to crank out new bombers? Hey, means Boeing is going to have a field day. Only thing that concerns me is the clause that is at the beginning of this article, that says that this Next Gen will replace the B-2. This sets off warning bells for me. 2020 is only seven years from now. The B-2 will barely have lived. I mean, it was an expensive project, how are you going to just replace it with a plane that is bound to be more, in fact, substantially more, than the projected price of 550 Million? Now, I can understand retiring the B-52. Honestly, I always loved the B-52, a great investment, all the airframes are paid for, and it is still very much serving its role quite brilliantly, but once again, it is form the sixties. It is time to slowly put the BUFFs to rest. Don’t scrap them in the god-forsaken bone yards; preserve them. Of course, the B-1B’s excellent payload, pretty good speed, and service record rightfully keeps it in the fleet. Last thing: don’t make the bomber look like the picture. That is one ugly aircraft. Boeing, you will most likely win the contract, don’t design another X-32. Oh, and just thought of this. Funny how the government starts to give out more information on the progress of this plane after Russia’s announcement of its hypersonic bomber. Coincidence?

    • Defense Tech Fan

      Boeing recently cut 30% of their defense management from their company, earns a very very small portion of their profit from defense compared to their peers, and is busy with their tanker contract (among other things). What could possibly make you think they are going to win this next-gen stealth bomber contract?

    • Defense Tech Fan

      Oh, and B-2 is contracted to fly through 2058. I wouldn’t worry about that disappearing anytime soon. B-52, on the other hand, doesn’t have as long a life remaining, understandably so.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        Wrong again. The B-52 is suppose to last till 2045. Long time from now. B-52 was a great investment. It has a great payload, it is versatile, it has survived numerous replacements of its own, and could outlive all of the US bomber fleet. BUFF has the acronym BUFF because it is so.

    • STemplar
    • Prodozul

      “Funny how the government starts to give out more information on the progress of this plane after Russia’s announcement of its hypersonic bomber. Coincidence?”

      It’s not just the US and Russia that have announced next gen bombers, after so many years China has finally confirmed they’re working on some sort of B-2 like bomber.

    • robertabbott

      The drawing does look futuristic. Of course the final product rarely resembles the drawings. In so much as Star Wars got associated with the Reagan Administration. This drawing does have a “Star Trek” feel to it.

    • Robert Triplett

      Remember the B36 hype,,,,,,,,,,,,,,it worked until we could produce the B50, and B47,which led to the B52. The cold war will never end, and the US will always be way ahead of all aeronautical threats. The present Phoenix and air sampling WB 57 F were light years ahead, and still Top Secret with present modifacations.. We rule the skies.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        Pretty accurate, actually. Also, who knows what is happening in Skunk works and Phantom Works. (Who here actually knew about stealth Blackhawk?)

      • tiger

        Yet 19 guys with box cutters get through. That is the threat, not a guy in a TU-95.

  • Lance

    While the services may make a hopeful budget the full weight of cuts are not being taken into account . So these projects will be delayed further. I dont see any new USAF bomber till 2025 at the earliest.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Sadly, you speak truth. I mean, if the government can’t keep the Blue Angels in for this year, how do you expect them to bring about a new bomber. Maybe with some luck, though, we will find the “next Ronald Reagan” or the “next John F. Kennedy” in the 2016 election. Maybe something to look forward to.

      • Of course we could have kept the blue angels, that was just Obama doing what he can to effect the general public the best he can. There’s a few things he can do to irritate us Americans, like not funding the Blue Angels & Thunderbirds, and white house tours, to name a few.

      • JoeSovereign

        80 billion in budget growth was cut. The budget is still larger than last year. 80 billion cut out of a 3000 billion dollar budget.

        The Obama FAA screwing the public this week by cutting air traffic controllers instead of the tens of thousands obureaucratsts is just an example of the games Obama is playing with the American people.

        We should all panic because we can’t live without the massive bloated government we have today.

        If we were currently paying our bills we could debate what size of government we want as a nation but to be going into debt 1 trillion dollars a year and to play these crazy political games over a tiny cdespicableiciple.

        • blight_

          Always easier to fire the working joes than the CEOs, or other executives. They have nobody fighting for them.

          Same is true in any organization. Cut the members that are the least powerful, instead of the least useful.

  • BlackOwl18E

    Because this makes so much sense during sequestration…

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Sequestration never made sense, BlackOwl18E..

      • Ben

        Sequestration made too much sense… Unfortunately, I’m probably one of the only pro-military people around here to admit that.

        We don’t need an army to play world police. We only need an army to defend ourselves and invest to keep our technological superiority. The only problem with the budget is that the DoD decided to keep pouring its money into failing programs rather than maintain our current capabilities.

        • BlackOwl18E

          I think cutting military spending makes sense. That’s why I’m questioning why this bomber is getting funded when we are cutting back and sequestration is in effect.

          • Free America

            Black Owl thinks we should stop making new equipment altogether. Sorry buddy, the B-29 doesnt work anymore. We need “new” equipment to keep our deterrence.

          • riceball

            No, he thinks that the Air Force should just replace its bomber fleet with either Super Bugs or International Road Map Hornets because they’re the best planes we’ve ever fielded. LOL

        • USS ENTERPRISE

          Let me put it this way. The trillion dollars that will be saved won’t be just saved this year. Its over a period of time, more like into the next presidency’s term. Sequestration cuts important bits, and keeps non essential things. It was a bit like a ransom for Congress, and should be lifted when a new budget is made. Though, that is unlikely.

        • Guest

          They had no choice. The way sequestration works is they cut an equal percentage from every program, no exceptions, mandated by law. SecNav said he would love to stop work on the new golf course in Annapolis and use the money for ship maintenance, but he isn’t allowed to. Your congress and president at work…

        • USS ENTERPRISE

          Sequestration, Ben, cut much out of the military and NASA, but those two areas aren’t even the highest spending. Both Defense and NASA are the hardest hit sections of the gov’t. You wanna cut spending? Figure out medicare and medicaid. And then slowly trim it to about half its size. Bring back the Blue Angels, and White House Tours!

    • Davis

      Sequestration didn’t make much sense to begin with. Giving money for R&D towards state-of-the-art weapons and systems is the normal that sequestration disrupted.

  • C-Low

    What makes aircraft and programs expensive is politics cutting the numbers built. The B-2 was offered In 1995 at $566 mill each. The cost in today’s tech is the development cost, that is why I trump paying the development cost separate. Doing such would end the politic trick of cutting numbers driving up per plane cost which ends up supporting cutting more numbers which drives up etc…. Pay the development cost up front then the opposite reaction is natural were the public demands more numbers to get a bang from all that development cost.

    500 million range is doable if the air force stays with large numbers and don’t fall for the trick.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Trouble is that if the government “pays up front” there is no guarantee that they money paid is enough to finance the entire R & D bit. For instance, when the government paid for the F-35 (formally the X-35) it paid for the planes and R&D. Now look. We underestimated the price, and we are left with the much hated F-35. If the government gave, say, 30 Billion for research and development (which is pretty high), and it wasn’t enough, Congress might step in, say that the project was doomed, and stop funding, leaving 30 billion wasted. In theory, your idea should work. But with escalating costs and trouble with keeping Area 51 functional (SARCASM), the amount of money required to keep a project can’t be predicted, or paid up front.

    • blight_

      You can’t pay for unpredictable costs up front as if they were predictable. They’ll overrun and come back for more. And you’re still at zero aircraft.

      And the pols will kill the R&D to stop the bleeding.

  • tiger

    Half billion dollar bomb dropper? Time for The Navy to fight the bombers again.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      B-2. ’nuff said.

  • PolicyWonk

    Well, $550M/airframe in today’s dollars is downright cheap compared to the B-2, which cost over $1B each (more each, than their weight in gold at the time).

    If the Chair Force is going to make this number (100), they’re going to have to meet that budget and offer something incredibly capable. Given their record, and the acquisition system, if they make that number (+/- 10%) I will personally be astonished. I think one can safely bet the mortgage that this paltry (?) $550M is going to increase significantly.

    And I take note, that there was zero mention of the B-1.

  • Snafuperman

    I remember reading something in AvWeek a while back about the operating costs (the real driver, not the purchase cost). The B-52 was about $1k/flight hour, the B-1 was about $3k, and the B-2 was about $8k. That was due to a sea of desert spares for the B-52, and the problematic coatings of the B-2. The B-52 is a great bomb truck in most situations where there is little or no air defense, and with a dirt cheap operating cost, that thing lives on forever. The B-2 is the only stealth aircraft, which leaves the B-1 in a bit of a lurch being not cheap and not stealthy.

    Also, the picture is not a bomber, so it won’t look anything like that.

  • blight_

    http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BUDGET-2014-BUD/pdf/

    8 billion for JSF, 5 billion for the Virginias.

    And:

    “As one of the largest organizations in the world, DOD consumes almost
    three-fourths of all energy used by the Federal Government. Consuming that much energy—whether fuel for planes, ships, and tanks, or electricity for bases, commissaries, and schools—has budgetary and strategic impacts.”

    If true, that is pretty scary. Solar pixie dust panels in Afghanistan won’t make a dent in it.

    Nuclear generators, anyone? Though I suppose an ATGM into a small nuclear power station would have dire consequences for the people nearby.

  • LO Train

    Incredible, the comments are creating political problems before the program even has a good beginning. The contractor doesn’t have a chance. He is going to get kicked around from several sides. What contractor has the means and will to take the beating and still deliver a good product for America.

  • William_C1

    Well this is one bit of positive news among the usual insanity in Washington.

    There are a lot aspects to consider. Subsonic or supersonic? How large? What level of stealth? Combining high supersonic speeds and VLO stealth is a high risk option so that will probably be avoided in this current budgetary environment.

  • Tony C.

    This will be interesting, the Air Force wants hypersonic capability for this airframe.
    Maybe new propulsion technologies will be developed in this program.

  • Special Ops Pops

    Unmanned bomber carrying nukes, wow. Don’t like that idea at all considering Iran skyjacked one pf our drones.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      Well you could say the same thing about man-bombers carrying nukes, as they can be hijacked.

    • blight_

      Indeed, let’s stick to nuclear cruise missiles. One-way trip, nothing to hijack but a mushroom cloud.

  • scott

    this thing looks very cool.HOOAH

  • Rob c.

    Hope things works out for the LRS-Bs. I just hope they keep things on budget this time and Dod doesn’t try mess around with it while its in development which sometimes causes these projects to balloon. They need high-tech bombers and low-tech ones. Manned has its place in Air Force, unmanned technology is still growing and developing. UCASS hasn’t even matured into a functional combat aircraft yet. Why get ahead our selves with tech we haven’t gotten used too..specially how fast we obsolete old technology. Pilots easier to maintain from obsoletion than expensive AI equipment.

  • Russell1969

    We have billions invested in the B-2 and the talk of retireing them or even the thought of retiring them is repulsive! Check the flying hours on the air frames and the cost for flying hour this aircraft was touted as the best bomber ever built. If the B-2 gets retired the tax payers will have thrown away billions on the B-2 program not just air frames but look at the cost of spare parts that will be useless.This asset need to be flying for years to come.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      My point exactly.

  • Matt.A

    Looks like more potential activity will happen at Plant 42…

  • SFP

    500 million range is doable if the air force stays with large numbers and don’t fall for the trick.

  • lance

    As long as it is a manned bomber its ok ENOUGH DRONES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!