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.

        • Musson

          Maybe we should have the Chinese build us some brand new copies of the B-52 airframes? Then, we can add the engines and the avionics.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Chinese metallurgy ain’t the best, and the Chinese are good at copying the Russians. Besides, hate to see the USAF have planes with the words “Made In China” stuck on the bottom.

            /sarc

          • tiger

            They read the same text books we did. At last check Our quality control in On projects is not exactly job # 1.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Uhm, there is a difference between welding steel plates, and riveting stealth parts. China’s defense sector is yet to make an advanced RAM surface.

          • chimput

            How much ram does a bomb truck like B-52 have?

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            How much does a B-2 have? A B-52 isn’t meant to be a first striker.

        • tiger

          I just hope there is Social Security for the people in 2045, Instead a bomber. the people need money & not bombs.

          • blight_

            Who needs SS when Darwin takes care of business?

          • Free America

            We need to ensure our civilization through deterrence. Who cares if there is money in SS if we cant defend or sustain our country…go hug a tree.

          • blight_

            There’s a big gradient between how much military power you need to defend up to the point where there is no civilization beyond the military.

            The North Korean “civilization” is certainly not worth its million-man army to defend, especially to the people living on grass noodles and extorted foreign aid (or Chinese “relief”).

            Conversely, going Europe and forfeiting continental defense is pretty sad. The armies of Europe have sacrificed much in power projection; and if they’d wanted to slash so deeply would have been better served in at least consolidating command structures across Europe to maximize force assets at the bottom and then eliminate redundancy at the top.

            But hey, that’s what sugar daddy America is for…

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            I think this bomber is to signal both China and Russia to halt advancements into American strong points. Though, the current bomber force can do service that role excellently.

          • blight_

            Why would it? They will buy what they need to buy, regardless of America’s lead.

          • tiger

            I do not need a $500 Million plane to stop a guy with a pressure cooker.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            But we need one to stop a crazy dictatorship.

          • blight_

            500M aircraft don’t defend the homeland, but cops can, ergo no more aircraft? Let’s not kick that dead horse for fun.

          • Restore Palestine

            Free America, one good way to “ensure our civilization” (whatever that means) would be to eliminate mentally ill / incompetent / inferior individuals such as BS ENTERPRISE and yourself.

            See if you can think of a way to speed up the process on your own.

          • Free America

            Ensure the survival of America RP. It isnt any fun to have to define everything for you in these debates, try to think for yourself moving forward. And again with the insults…is that all you know?

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Gemini

          • Restore Palestine

            The way things are going, you are not going to have SS in 2020, let alone 2045. Your “hope” shows just how little you know about the crimes the US government has been committing.

          • Free America

            What crimes RP? Be specific if you can…

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Mercury (the missions, not the planet)

          • Musson

            Surprisingly – it’s the Chinese that will be under a mushroom cap of elderly. Their one child policy will mean a crushing demographic wave will break over them.

          • oblatt1

            How lucky for us that the Chinese have such self defeating policies and small town America can just sit back and take the win.

            Except that is not the case. They have boosted their growth by controlling their population and now the are relaxing their one child policy as they become richer. They in fact optimized their population dynamic.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Absolutely, 100%. Their population growth is too slow to support their elderly. I think that before China can completely become a superpower, it needs to fix its laws and freedoms (which are limited).

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • BlackOwl18E

    Because this makes so much sense during sequestration…

  • 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.

  • 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_

      In the long run the spares at Davis Monathan will run out. And if the parts aren’t manufactured and no replacements are found, they will have to be “refurbished” or equivalent/better replacements sourced.

      Makes you wonder about those B-52’s that we were forced to cut in half in the name of world peace. We had to, and thought that the B-52 would be replaced soon, but…

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      B-1 isn’t in a lurch at all. Actually, the B-1 serves as the backbone of the bomber fleet. It can do CAS, as well as low level penetration, and can do a little carpet bombing. Let me put it this way: the B-1B has the largest payload of any bomber in, not just the US fleet, but in all of NATO (which is kinda the same as the US fleet). Very important. All our bombers are important. We need all of them.

    • Pat

      That’s why the B-52’s use standoff weapons.

  • 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.

    • USS ENTERPRISE

      I say fund something into matter-anti matter fuel sources.

  • 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.

    • blight_

      It’s more a cost problem than a political problem.

      When your market is no longer free and the “competition” symbolic, the product suffers.

      • TrueBlood

        I couldn’t agree more. However, with open source competition our less than secure security measures have created an altogether emerging need to protect the data being gathered in production competitions. Otherwise, open source can keep costs down to analytical tolerable levels. Look back to the fifties and sixties to understand this concept w/ one notable difference. We took our country’s security a lot more serious than today. Security overrode greed back then.

    • TrueBlood

      Funny thing – its the past political problems that have created the comments and from my view point, they are pretty accurate comments. No upfront budget analysis can withstand the history of developmental overuns. Chief “trick” hee is to solidy a platform that can be modified to meet the future comabt role w/o giving up our forward capability posture. Convert B2’s into needed platform and incorporate new gen tech to meet the demand and quit the “Pixar” movement to develope a altogether new craft. Budget streams are tight, while real people are being sent home with no pay!

  • 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.

    • blight_

      NO.

      New bomber to replace the B-2 and potentially some B-1B or B-52 units as they age out. Let the hypersonic stuff mature before we sink more billions into putting hypersonic carts before the horse.

      • USS ENTERPRISE

        I didn’t read anywhere about a hypersonic bomber anyways, so. But do we really need a hypersonic bomber? I mean, with the number of bases around the world, the US can deploy a bomber in hours, if not minutes.

        • blight_

          I didn’t either, but I strongly disagree with feature creep. Advanced research programs are for research, not final procurement programs.

  • Special Ops Pops

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

  • 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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!