STEALTH BOMBER RACE UNDERWAY
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.
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.