Air Force Plans Major Step in Long Range Strike Bomber Program

B-2 and strike eaglesThe Air Force plans to award a contract to build its new bomber to a single vendor by next spring or summer as part of its ongoing effort to engineer a stealthy long range bomber that can evade advanced air defenses, service leaders said Sept. 15 at the Air Force Association Air and Space Conference at National Harbor, Maryland.

“We’re about ready to enter into the next phase of the bomber. We’ve spent the last couple of years refining the requirements and maturing the technology. Within the next year we will down-select to one contractor and then start the heavy lifting of building the first bomber and testing,” Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, military deputy for Air Force acquisition, told Military.com in an interview.

The new Long-Range Strike Bomber program, or LRS-B, plans to have new planes in the fleet by the mid-2020s. The Air Force ultimately plans to acquire as many as 80 to 100 new bombers for a price of roughly $550 million per plane, she added.

The Air Force has made the Long Range Strike Bomber one of its top priorities and successfully protected it from the cuts other weapons programs have sustained.

Over the last two to three years, the Air Force has worked closely with industry as part of the research and technology phase of the program. So far, the service has made a $1 billion technology investment in the bomber program as part of an effort to explore the realm of the possible for the aircraft. The new LRS-B is slated to replace the existing fleet of 1980’s-era B-2 stealth bombers.

“We have spent a lot of time understanding what is in the scope of technology. The bomber reflects the need for stealth, the need for speed, the need for agility as well as the value of situational awareness and sensors. We are going to exploit the best of the technology that we can bear within an affordable price,” Pawlikowski added.

Although much of the details of the LRS-B development are not publically available, Air Force leaders have said the aircraft will likely be engineered to fly unmanned and manned missions. Air Force officials also want it to be nuclear capable and have the ability to cross the globe in hours.

“Combining with the weapons that it will carry and the suite that goes with the bomber it will be able to essentially put anywhere in the world at risk within a short period of time,” she said.

The new aircraft will be designed to have global reach, in part by incorporating a large arsenal of long-range weapons. The LRS-B is being engineered to carry existing weapons as well as emerging and future weapons, Pawlikowski explained.

In particular, the aircraft is being engineered to evade increasingly sophisticated air defenses which now use faster processors and sensors to track even stealthy aircraft at longer ranges.

“From the beginning, the Long-Range Strike Bomber has focused on being able to get at those tough targets. It is being designed to be able to take on the most adverse air defenses and be able to penetrate and deliver weapons,” she said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Peter Miles

    Great idea, just hope it goes better than the *cough* F35 *cough*

    • Dfens

      The next great airplane program always is better. That’s the whole premise this scam is built around. And yet, when this program is cancelled before producing a single operational airplane, we will all feel fortunate just as we did every other time a weapons program was cancelled leaving the US taxpayer holding an empty sack.

      • blight_qwerty

        I feel like our principal problem is that our procurement programs are rarely pragmatic.

        Cheyenne going into development hell brought us the Cobra. The Cheyenne being canned brought about a re-compete that led to the AH-64.

        However, I suspect we can no longer rely on pragmatic acquisition decisions.

    • Doug Hatchett

      And the F-22 with its non existent FMC rate and the V-22 with the longest and largest production budget in the history of aviation and lets not forget about the venerable lets change the requirements to meet the produced piece of crap C-17! Odds are there will be replies to My Sarcasm but If You’ve been in Aviation any significant time and actually Spoken to or turned wrenches on the trash we have produced over the last couple of decades You Know It to be TRUE!

      • Mitch S.

        Admittedly I don’t know anyone turning wrenches on them, but I thought the C17 was working pretty well (nothing these days ever achieves the overblown promises it was sold by).
        I recall hearing the success of the C17 was making it tough for Airbus to sell the A400M.

  • Lance

    Well if it goes fast in budget cuts is yet to be seen. I do not like the idea some of these top brass morons to make this bomber a giant drone. We do NOT need unmanned nuclear bombers. Last thing you want is one to go out of order in flight and drop a H-bomb on your own base. Whats next by these idiots want the Skynet funding act?

    • Mitchell Fuller

      Look what the Iranian’s were able to do with our most advanced drone, put it on public display…….

    • Riceball

      Making something an unmanned drone isn’t the same thing as autonomous, a more accurate term would be remotely piloted. Even if this thing next-gen bomber gets unmanned capability it will almost certainly that it’s piloted remotely like an overgrown Predator/Reaper and even if it flies to its target on auto-pilot you can be damned sure that there will be human that pushes the pickle button releasing the bombs.

      • Sev

        And if someone else takes control of the plane, then they can bomb you with it dumba$$

    • tiger

      We do not need a Manned one either.

  • gord

    what? no spaceships?

  • Dave

    So if all goes well we end up with 8-10 bombers at $5.5 billion each.

    • Robbie

      Why not just build a modernized B-2? Use the same extremely stealthy airframe but loaded with up-to-date avionics and engines? Would be far less expensive and risky as we have all the drawings, tools, jigs and residual expertise from the original airframe, so the Air Force could afford to buy a lot more aircraft….

    • Bernard

      That sounds closer to reality. It certainly won’t be any less than $1 billion a plane.

    • LOL

      8-10 non-working or barely working bombers.

    • guest

      Hahahahaah just as I was thinking….but…how can it be BETTER than the B-2, fly faster, longer, be stealthier, but yet….cost less….Hahahahaha pipe dream from the get go. And anyone even believing this is possible is a nin com poop!! Hahahahaha Just my opinion, but, what do I know about weapons purchasing……..ONLY THAT IT NEVER COMES IN ON BUDGET :-) thats all…….

  • Dfens

    Here we go again. Another 2 decade long development program that will end with few or no aircraft being produced. But this one will be better. We will do it right this time. After all, there is a clear trend — and the defense contractors all hope you are too stupid to figure out what that trend is. So far, only very few have ever disappointed them.

    • Riceball

      It’s not all the defense contractor’s fault, a lot of it has to do with the military constantly changing their minds as the project moves along and adding on capabilities and components as things are being built. What’s the contractor supposed to do about except say, sure, we can do it but it’s going to cost you in both time and money. What the military really needs to do is freeze the design once they’ve decided what they want, once the first X number of production units are built and delivered they can then approach the contractor about building in improvements and making other changes to the design as part of a new design block. That and they really need to take a long hard look at what they want and figure out just how doable what they want is, whether it’s something that’s far from possible, or just about fully mature.

      • blight_qwerty

        Navy-“we want it modular with rapid switch modules”
        Vendors: “Oh whoops…it’ll actually take weeks to switch ’em out”

        Navy/Air Force/Marines: “We want three aircraft with airframes so common they will be almost interchangable on the production line.”
        Vendor: “Surprise, I built something without internal weapons bays!”
        Navy/Air Force/Marines: “Well, I guess interchangeability is toast!”

  • Rat

    So then i assume technology demonstrators are being flown soon. Sweet. I’m betting on no more flying wings,

  • bobbymike

    Trillion dollar defense budget build 300 LSR-Bs, new hypersonic nuke cruise missile, new ICBM, SSBN(X)…………….

  • jason

    Why not upgrade the B2 fleet to a higher standard…wait a sec, Lockheed officials know they can tell their defence department officials what they ‘need to spend their money on’…to optimize their air fleet; namely, a costly replacement, that will balloon in price as development time progresses….if you thought the F35 was expensive! – you ain’t seen nothing yet…

  • Bernard

    I think we should wait until drone technology is ready. There is no sense waisting design effort on a half step. Plus our current conflicts show minimal need for this. The chances of us facing a foe with a credible air defense is nearly zero, especially with the current state of globalization and the global economy.

  • JH

    Umm no fly-offs?! Single vendor? Boeing AND Lockheed are working together…

  • LOL

    A new round of big spending on “advanced stealth bombers”

    Time for the CIA or the Pentagon to fabricate some stories about ISIS acquiring “advanced anti-stealth radars”, i.e., secret funding to the ISIS to acquire some stuff, props or otherwise … courtesy of American taxpayers, with enthusiasm.

  • Mouse C Tung

    Next question: how to detect large bombers without radar. It is so obvious why did I think of it? Optically targeting pressure wave, ionization or spectral emissions analysis, all of this has to be possible with advanced sensors and processors and could render this type of radar specific stealth aircraft as meaningless and vulnerable as the –obviously obsolete in a future major power high tech conflict– Aircraft Carrier!! Fighting the last wars with tomorrow’s dollars today, our US of A!

  • Dave

    The B2 is the biggest boon doggle out there. It is used very little and stealth is all but obsolete. All the B2 does is hold down concrete and the operating cost is insane. To replace them with another boon doggle is just stupid. So far all these new and advanced planes have done little to nothing in combat. It’s the B1 knocking down doors and kicking ass.

  • rat

    So many trolls, so few brains

  • Nick987654

    It SHOULD be designed with a next generation variable cycle engine compatible with the F-35. A strictly subsonic airframe would be as slow as the 30 year old B-2. A cupercruise speed of mach 1.25 would be very feasable and would help for deep penetration.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they had not disclosed more official details about the plane because they want everyone to believe it will be nothing more than a subsonic flying wing.

    • Dfens

      Mach 1.25 has all the down sides of designing for supersonic speeds with few of the advantages. Transonic cruise (between M0.95 and M1.1) has some big advantages, but then if you’re going to go supersonic you might as well aim for M2.4 (like Concorde) for an aluminum airplane or M3+ for one built out of titanium or steel (like the SR-71).

      • Nick987654

        Around mach 1, drag becomes huge.

        I am rather under the impression that what becomes significantly less cost effective is speeds of mach 1.7+, where the plane absolutely needs to use the afterburner, and the RAM coating start having problems. The stress on the airframes also becomes greater.

        Also a bomber will have a fat fuselage because of the large bays, that will have a detrimental effect on supersonic speed, unless one choses a long design with variable wings and probably 4 engines. ( i.e. B-1 ) which is very expensive.

        The LRS-B could be capable of cruising above the transonic regime for reduced drag ( around mach 1.25 ) with its bombs, mach 1.35 supercruise when the bombs have been dropped, and a top speed on afterburner of around Mach 1.7-1.8. It would use its afterburner unless absolutely necessary. And it would do its transcontinental flight in subsonic to spare fuel.

        That kind of speed seems to be the sweet spot in terms of cost-effectiveness. It would certainly be possible with variable cycle engines.

        • Mark

          They appear to want a Mach 9 class plane capable of 12,000 mile range.

        • Dfens

          Ever heard of Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser concept airplane? A lot of what you’ve heard is not really wrong, but it’s not the whole story either. There’s nothing magic about M1.7. It’s where the F-22’s engine runs out of thrust in mil power. The Concorde went M2+. It flew a temperature profile that kept the leading edges of the wings from melting, and it flew in afterburner all the time. With today’s engines you wouldn’t have to do that. The SR-71 was made of titanium which would take more heat and at M3 ramjets just start to be effective, so it had an engine that would operate in subsonic, afterburner, and ramjet mode. The compression ratio for a ramjet doesn’t really become efficient until about M5, so if we made something that didn’t exceed M5 we might go a different way today.

  • DBW*^

    And of course we’ll still have the B-52 for the heavy work!

  • jstevensjr

    I have to wonder why, when the technology for precision targeting already exists, we would ever build another manned bomber aircraft. Could it possibly be because the Air Force is and always has been run primarily by pilots?

    All of the money we are spending to develop the requirements for, design, and produce a manned bomber should instead be spent on all of the technologies needed for unmanned, hypersonic long range precision weapons.

  • Big-Dean

    Lockhead is going to get this new contract and each new bomber will only cost $85 Billion and only take 20 years to build, and it’ll be the most awesome bomber ever (it’ll even have it’s own highly advance espresso machine)

    And anyone who disagrees is an idiot and knows nothing about how “advanced” and awesome this new bomber will be (sarc)

  • Barry

    80-100 planes, flying, in the fleet, in 10 years, @$550M per unit.

    SCIENCE FICTION

    They’ll be lucky if they’ve started their flight test program by then.

    • Dfens

      We will be paying Lockheed extra to drag out development for another decade or two, so guess what they’ll do? Here’s a thought, if you don’t want the program to take forever, don’t pay them extra to drag it out. Just me, thinking…

  • SAC Crewdog

    A new nuke-capable bomber? What’s it going to carry; we haven’t been allowed to even test the warheads we have now for reliability, nor are we being allowed to develop anything new. Funding, you know. On the other hand, a new bomber would necessarily incorporate parts from many, many congressional districts.

  • BuckRogers1

    Perhaps it is time to design the bomber without bombs and just make it the local command and control vehicle that have people in them that can see and make local decisions. It could be small and fast and high altitude. The normal weight attributed to bombs would go fuel for longer time on target. The BWB would fly with a dozen stealthy Swarming Flying wing ordinance mules, most of which could be added while in bound to a target and could come from multiple points of origination, programmed to only talk to a specific BWB and if contact is lost would return to a specific location and land. Most of the Flying ordinance mules would carry bombs only or they actually be the bomb, some would carry ECM and some would be low cost bait that become “highly observable” to distract any ground-to-air launch missle.

  • William_C1

    To everybody saying “build more B-2s” that option has passed. The production line is long closed. All of the subcontractors for the countless internal parts have moved on. Yes in theory you could recreate all of that but in practice it isn’t going to cost much less. You also have to update it to account for the last 20+ years of technological development.

    The comments about “the need for speed” has me wondering if they want a supersonic design versus a subsonic design the previous “2018 Bomber” program seemed to favor.

    I don’t understand the need for a strategic bomber to be “optionally manned”, doesn’t seem like a capability that would have much use outside in such an important asset.

    • Mitch S.

      They won’t fly nukes without a man in the roosterpit.
      (ya know, the place the pilot does his job that can’t be mentioned on this site!)

    • blight_qwerty

      If we want drones to fly one way suicide missions, just attach ALCM’s to the LRB and fire from well outside enemy territory.

      I am unsure why speed is part of the requirements…sonic boom and an IRST glow is not the way to be stealthy.

  • Mark

    How about removing the sonic boom and lowering the IRST glow.