STEALTH BOMBER RACE UN­DER­WAY

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY BILL GERTZ

The Pen­tagon an­nounced last week it is de­vel­op­ing a new strate­gic bomber that will carry both nu­clear and con­ven­tional weapons, as both China and Rus­sia are en­gaged in sim­i­lar stealth bomber pro­grams. The U.S. bomber, cur­rently named Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, even­tu­ally will be called the B-3 when the first air­craft are de­ployed in the mid-2020s.

The high-priced bomber is needed to re­place aging B-52 and B-1 bombers and aug­ment the small fleet of B-2s.

Northrop Grum­man, which builds the stealth drone known as the RQ-180, won an ini­tial $21.4 bil­lion con­tract for 21 of the air­craft, each of which are ex­pected to cost over $500 mil­lion. A hun­dred bombers even­tu­ally will be built.

Most of the fea­tures of the bomber re­main se­cret. How­ever, de­fense and mil­i­tary sources said the bomber will be the most ad­vanced strike air­craft in the world, with fea­tures that are ex­pected to far ex­ceed past bomber ca­pa­bil­i­ties for air-launched pre­ci­sion-guided bombs and mis­siles.

For the new bomber, mil­i­tary sources say it will also in­clude a com­bi­na­tion of in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing gear and long-range sen­sors that can trans­fer the data to on­board weapons to be launched in rapid, pin­point strikes.

Also, ini­tial ver­sions will be pi­loted, and more ad­vanced ver­sions are ex­pected to in­clude un­manned drone ver­sions.

Other pos­si­ble weapons on the bomber could in­clude laser guns for use against air­craft, mis­siles and even­tu­ally ground tar­gets.

Ad­di­tion­ally, with rapid growth of global cy­ber­war­fare ca­pa­bil­i­ties, the bomber is ex­pected to be used as a cy­ber­weapons plat­form with the abil­ity to con­duct re­mote and long-range cy­ber­at­tacks on key fa­cil­i­ties, such as other mil­i­tary com­mand and con­trol sys­tems.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said in an­nounc­ing the bomber con­tract: “The ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the LRS-B will en­sure the United States is able to hold any tar­get on the globe at risk, while pro­vid­ing our com­bat­ant com­man­ders crit­i­cal op­er­a­tional flex­i­bil­ity across the full range of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions.”

The bomber will be de­signed to pen­e­trate in­creas­ingly ad­vanced air de­fenses of for­eign ad­ver­saries as well as pro­vid­ing nu­clear weapons de­ter­rence to al­lies, he added.

Re­tired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Dep­tula said he strongly sup­ports the de­ci­sion to build the new bomber, which was can­celed in 2009 as it took “way too long to make” due to red tape and pro­cure­ment rules.

“The abil­ity to strike tar­gets any­where in the world at any time to net strate­gic ef­fects is a core U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity ca­pa­bil­ity unique to the Air Force’s lon­grange strike force,” Gen. Dep­tula told In­side the Ring. “How­ever, with 87 per­cent of the coun­try’s bomber in­ven­tory fielded be­fore mod­ern stealth tech­nol­ogy, the coun­try is ex­ceed­ingly re­liant upon just a hand­ful of B-2s to reach the world’s hard­est tar­gets.”

Mean­while, China is en­gaged in build­ing a new stealth bomber that has been iden­ti­fied in some Chi­nese mil­i­tary web­sites as the H-18.

That pro­gram, like the Air Force bomber, re­mains one of Bei­jing’s deep­est se­crets. The bomber is ex­pected to be fielded around the same time as the U.S. B-3.

A model of the new Chi­nese stealth bomber was re­cently shown on the mil­i­tary web­site Top81 Ding­sheng, with the Chi­nese char­ac­ters for the bomber called “Di­vine Ea­gle.”

Rick Fisher, a se­nior fel­low at the In­ter­na­tional As­sess­ment and Strat­egy Cen­ter, said both China and Rus­sia have ad­vanced bomber pro­grams, but that Moscow ap­pears to have tem­po­rar­ily shelved its new bomber in fa­vor of restart­ing pro­duc­tion of Tu-160 Black­jack bombers.

“China’s Xian Air­craft Corp. is de­vel­op­ing a new strate­gic bomber that may be a ‘fly­ing wing’ de­sign called H-20,” he said, based on Asian gov­ern­ment sources. The bomber could be de­ployed by 2020. “In ad­di­tion, China may be work­ing on a new su­per­sonic theater bomber, some­times called H-18, but much less is known about this pro­gram,” Iran’s air de­fenses and radar also is Chi­nese in ori­gin.

Bei­jing also was an ini­tial sup­plier for Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The aging U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber is to be phased out by newer plane mod­els go­ing into the mid-2020s. The Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, is the lead­ing con­tender, and will be known as the B-3.

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