Long Range Strike Bomber program

The Long Range Strike Bomber program (LRS-B) is a development and acquisition program to develop a long-range strategic bomber for the United States Air Force,[1] intended to be a heavy-payload stealth aircraft capable of delivering thermonuclear weapons.[2] Initial capability is planned for the mid-2020s. A request for proposal to develop the aircraft was issued in July 2014. The Air Force plans to purchase 80–100 LRS-B aircraft at a cost of $550 million each (2010 dollars). A development contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman for its B-21 Raider in October 2015.

Long Range Strike Bomber program
Artist Rendering B21 Bomber Air Force Official
U.S. Air Force Artist rendering of the B-21 "Raider"
Project for Strategic stealth bomber
Issued by United States Air Force
Proposals  • Boeing/Lockheed Martin

 • Northrop Grumman

Date concluded 27 October 2015
(contract awarded for development)
Outcome Northrop Grumman selected to produce its entry as B-21
Predecessor programs Next-Generation Bomber

Origins

On 19 May 2009, Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz said that the USAF's focus in the 2010 budget was on "Long-range strike, not next-generation bomber" and will push for this in the Quadrennial Defense Review.[3] In June 2009, the two teams working on next-generation bomber proposals were told to "close up shop".[4] On 16 September 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates endorsed the concept of a new bomber but insisted that it must be affordable,[5] stating: "What we must not do is repeat what happened with our last manned bomber. By the time the research, development, and requirements processes ran their course, the aircraft, despite its great capability, turned out to be so expensive – $2 billion each in the case of the B-2 Spirit—that less than one-sixth of the planned fleet of 132 was ever built."[6] On 5 October 2009, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Ashton Carter said that the DoD was still deciding if the USAF needed a new bomber and that, if approved, the aircraft would need to handle reconnaissance as well as strike missions.[7] In July 2010, Carter said he intended to "make affordability a requirement" for the next-generation intelligence and strike platform.[8]

On 11 December 2009, Gates said that the QDR had shown the need for both manned and unmanned long range strike and that the 2011 budget would likely include funding for the future bomber.[9] The USAF plans for the new bomber to be multi-role with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.[10] As a bomber, the LRS-B will be under Air Force Global Strike Command, while ISR assets are managed by Air Combat Command's 25th Air Force.[11]

In 2010, Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, questioned a reliance on short range aircraft like the F-35 to manage China in a future conflict and promoted reducing the F-35 buy in favor of a longer range platform like the Next-Generation Bomber; then-United States Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne had rejected this plan in 2007.[12][13][14] During debate on the New START treaty in December 2010, several senators raised the LRS-B as a reason to oppose or delay ratification.[15][16]

On 6 January 2011, Secretary of Defense Gates made a speech on the U.S. defense budget for FY 2012, which announced major investment in developing a long-range, nuclear-capable bomber, also to be optionally remotely piloted. He also said the aircraft "will be designed and developed using proven technologies, an approach that should make it possible to deliver this capability on schedule and in quantity. It is important that we begin this project now to ensure that a new bomber can be ready before the current aging fleet goes out of service. The follow on bomber represents a key component of a joint portfolio of conventional deep-strike capabilities—an area that should be a high priority for future defense investment given the anti-access challenges our military faces."[17] In July 2011, Joint Chief Vice Chairman James Cartwright called for a large UAV instead of a manned aircraft, including for the nuclear mission.[18] Retired Air Force colonel and Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments analyst Mark Gunzinger has called for an optionally manned bomber, stating that purely unmanned bombers would be at a disadvantage without direct human pilot awareness and vulnerable to communication disruption.[19]

In March 2011, the USAF decided to purchase 80 to 100 aircraft.[20][21] The Global Strike Command indicated that one requirement for the bomber is to carry a weapon of similar effect to the Massive Ordnance Penetrator.[22][23] In addition to the strategic bombing, tactical bombing, and prompt global strike roles typical for a bomber, the aircraft is to be part of a family of systems responsible for ground surveillance and electronic attack.[24] The Obama Administration in its 2012 budget request asked for $197 million and a total of $3.7 billion over five years to develop the bomber, including modular payloads for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), electronic attack (EA), and communications.[25][26] It shall be nuclear-capable, but shall not be certified as such until older bombers are set to retire.[27][28]

In 2011, the House Armed Services Committee added language that would require two engine programs for the bomber; Ashton Carter objected that the addition would interfere with plans to reuse an existing engine.[29] Reportedly, the two most likely engines are the Pratt & Whitney PW9000 engine, which uses a combination of Pratt & Whitney F135 and commercial turbofan technology, and a derivative of the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136.[30][31] In May 2011, Air Force Undersecretary Erin Conaton announced that a program office was being set up for the bomber.[32] The USAF asked for $292 million for the program in its 2013 budget request.[33] The program has also been referred to as "Long-Range Strike-B" (LRS-B).[34] In 2012, former Pentagon weapons tester Thomas P. Christie speculated that the bomber program had been initiated so that the Air Force would have a sacrificial program to offer during anticipated defense budget shortfalls.[35] The USAF seems committed to the program, given a lack of other non-nuclear options to deal with "deeply buried and/or hardened targets,"[36][37] and committed two percent of their investment budget to the project, compared to three percent to sustain existing bombers.[38]

As of August 2013, the USAF believes that the LRS-B can reach Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in 2025. Reportedly, the main risk is funding, in light of the F-35 Lightning II's acquisition difficulties and a lack of an "urgent threat". Prior bomber programs were hindered by a lack of funding, only 21 B-2 Spirits were produced out of 132 planned and fewer B-1 Lancers were built than were envisioned; both programs were scaled down due to spiraling per aircraft costs. Research funding was allocated, as stealthy technologies to counter anti-access/area-denial threats were spared from budget cuts. The USAF stated the LRS-B is a top priority as it is believed that China will overcome the B-2's low-observable features by the 2020s. Where possible, existing technologies and proven subsystems will be used in order to keep it within budget, instead of developing new and riskier ones. Components such as engines and radars may be off-the-shelf or adaptions of existing models, such as derivative technologies of the F-35. The LRS-B is intended to perform any long range mission, rather than one specialized mission, which drove up the cost of the B-2. The USAF expects it to cost $1 billion each with development costs factored in, and aims for a per-aircraft cost of $550 million, considered reasonable for a limited production run military aircraft.[39]

On 25 October 2013, Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced their teaming up for the LRS-B. Boeing will be the prime contractor. The two companies previously joined together for the program in 2008, but the partnership ended in 2010 when requirements shifted. Boeing believes that as the program had evolved, they can readdress their partnership to specifically address requirements. The team has Boeing's bomber experience and Lockheed Martin's stealth experience. At the time of the announcement, official details about the LRS-B were that it will likely be optionally manned and use stealth technology.[40] On 30 January 2014, Northrop Grumman stated their intention to invest in developing needed technology for the bomber, such as stealth designs, mission management systems, and autonomous controls.[41]

In January 2014, General Schwartz said that the Pentagon should abandon plans to outfit the F-35 with nuclear weapons in favor of the LRS-B. A 2010 Nuclear Posture Review stated that replacing the F-16 with the F-35 retains dual conventional and nuclear delivery capabilities for USAF fighters. The Congressional Budget Office determined that upgrading the F-35 for nuclear deployment would cost $350 million over the next decade. Schwartz said that without financial support from NATO, where some nuclear-capable F-35s would be deployed, those funds should be transferred to the LRS-B. At the same time, Congress cut funding for the B61 nuclear bomb, stripping $10 million from F-35 integration and $34.8 million for life extension; Schwartz stated that B61's life extension must proceed.[42]

On 20 February 2014, the USAF reasserted the bomber's need at the annual Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla. It was stated it will be fielded in the mid-2020s, and between 80 and 100 of the bombers will be procured. Lt. Gen. Burton Field clarified the 80 to 100 range is due to uncertainty over the price rather than a figure representing the minimum number of bombers needed to mitigate risk.[43][44] Some USAF leaders expect the unit cost limit of $550 million per aircraft will be exceeded with additional equipment added to the airframe. The cost goal is to set design constraints to prevent extra requirements for capability growth desires and untested technologies that would increase the price more from being incorporated during development. Though the final cost may be greater than planned, a fixed price objective is expected to keep average procurement costs affordable.[45] Rather than the price ceiling being too low to meet requirements, the USAF sees this arrangement as itself and the potential contractor being disciplined about the bomber's missions and roles. Research and development expenses are likely to be "significant", but not expected to be double the cost of production aircraft.[46]

The USAF intended to release a full request for proposals (RFP), a final RFP, and begin the competition for the Long-Range Strike Bomber in fall 2014. Two teams, Northrop Grumman and Boeing–Lockheed Martin, were working on pre-proposals for the competition.[47] In June 2014, the USAF revealed that the LRS-B RFP would be released "soon," with proposals to be submitted by fall 2014 and evaluations completed in early 2015, with a contract award after that. Some public information includes that it will be operational in the mid-2020s, based on existing technologies, have a large payload, may possibly be optionally-manned, and is being designed to work with a "family of systems" that includes ISR, electronic attack, and communication systems. Early aircraft will be designed around fixed requirements with mature technologies that will be adaptable through open architecture for future sensor and weapons capabilities.[48] Although the LRS-B request for proposals (RFP) was to be released by the end of June, the USAF hesitated to publicly announce it to keep the process fair and less likely to give sensitive information to "potential adversaries". Public announcements of future acquisition milestones are to be "released as appropriate."[49]

Competitive phase

The USAF released its RFP for the LRS-B on 9 July 2014. By entering the competitive phase of acquisition, the USAF is limited with what it is able to release, and few details were expected to be made public until the contract is awarded in the second quarter of 2015. The LRS-B is expected to replace the B-52 fleet, possibly replace a portion of the B-1 fleet, and complement the B-2 fleet. According to an Air Force study, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses and Rockwell B-1 Lancers currently in inventory will reach the end of their service lives by 2045.[50]

Northrop Grumman could base production in Florida if they won the contract, which would provide tax credits, while California passed a bill offering tax credits to the manufacturer if they build it in their state, which would mainly benefit the Boeing–Lockheed Martin team.[51][52] On 14 August 2014, the California legislature passed a measure to apply tax benefits equally to prime and subcontractors. The previous measure only applied to subcontractors, meaning Lockheed Martin as part of the Boeing–Lockheed Martin team, placing Northrop Grumman at a near half-billion-dollar disadvantage in the bidding; the new measure levels the tax benefit field by also applying them to prime contractors, as Northrop Grumman has no subcontractor and also has operations in Palmdale.[53]

With a target price of $550 million per aircraft, Defense News quoted a source with knowledge of the program predicting that the LRS-B may be smaller than the B-2, perhaps half the size, powered by two engines in the Pratt & Whitney F135 power class.[54] The target unit cost of $550 million is based on 2010 dollars and is $606 million in 2016 dollars.[55] One of the program's main effects will be its impact on the industrial base; three of the country's five largest defense firms are competing. After the LRS-B, the USAF will not have another major attack aircraft program until the 2030s for a new fighter, with a follow-on bomber after that. With that stretch of time in between, the loser may be forced to leave the industry entirely; Northrop Grumman would likely not retain the infrastructure required for the next major undertaking, and Boeing's main aircraft field is now its commercial products.[56][57] Industrial impact may cause any contract to be contested by Congress from representatives that receive campaign donations from a company whose award would create jobs for constituents. In addition to competing with other USAF priorities, budgets may put the LRS-B at odds with other services' priorities such as the Columbia-class submarine.[54]

In April 2015, Pentagon undersecretary for acquisition Frank Kendall revealed that individual technologies for the LRS-B will be competed to enhance flexibility, increase competition, and drive down costs. This means even though one team will build the aircraft, other competitors will have the chance to compete for sustainment and upgrade features.[58] Although a contract was planned to be awarded in early summer 2015, it was pushed back to September 2015 to ensure the optimal contractor was selected. Prolonging this part of the process is seen as a time and money-saver later in the acquisition to ensure the resulting bomber can be useful over a 50-year lifespan.[59]

In September 2015, the USAF revealed that the LRS-B's development was much further along than had been publicly acknowledged, and more than usual before a contract award. Final requirements had been finalized since May 2013. Both competitors had mature proposals with prototyping activities and wind tunnel tests along with subsystems, although no demonstrator had been built. The designs are "very different" from each other with different teams on subsystems such as engines, electronic warfare suites, and communications systems; subcontractors will likely not be announced when the winner is picked. The bomber seems similar to the B-2, but more advanced using improved materials for superior low observability, similar to or smaller in size, and will operate alone or as part of a strike package with other airborne assets. Conducting of tests and risk reduction this early in the acquisition process is in part because the program has been handled by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office since 2011, which has more freedom in how it procures technologies. To reduce risk, the aircraft's production rate will probably remain steady and fairly modest over the course of the aircraft's production.[60][61] In late September 2015, the contract award was again delayed.[62]

Contract award

On 27 October 2015, the Defense Department awarded the development contract to Northrop Grumman.[63] The initial value of the contract is $21.4 billion, but the deal could eventually be worth up to $80 billion.[64][65][66] The deciding factor in the selection of the Northrop design was cost.[67] On 6 November 2015, Boeing and Lockheed Martin protested the decision to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Development costs have been estimated to be from $10 to $23 billion.[68][69] On 16 February 2016, the GAO denied the protest, and Northrop Grumman resumed work on the project.[70] In February 2016, Boeing and Lockheed decided not to pursue a lawsuit against the US Air Force over the selection of Northrop Grumman.[71] In November 2017, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the total cost of the bomber to be $97 billion, $69 billion of which are attributed to development costs.[72]

At the 2016 Air Warfare Symposium, the LRS-B aircraft was formally designated B-21.[73] The head of the US Air Force Global Strike Command expects that 100 B-21 bombers is the minimum ordered and envisions some 175–200 bombers in service.[74] A media report states that the bomber could also be used as an intelligence gatherer, battle manager, and interceptor aircraft.[75]

Operational Info

On November 16, 2017 Congressman Jodey Arrington (R- Lubbock, Texas) stated in an interview with Chad Hasty on KFYO Radio in Lubbock that the B-21 Raider is expected to be housed at Dyess AFB in Abilene, Texas. Dyess AFB currently serves as the home of the B-1 Lancer and is in Arrington's congressional district.

See also

References

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External links

2016 in aviation (July–December)

This is a list of aviation-related events from 2016 between July and December.

2037 Bomber

The 2037 Bomber is the unofficial name given to a heavy strategic bomber planned by the United States Air Force, intended to serve as a replacement for the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit. The aircraft is projected to enter service in 2037 as a stealth, supersonic, long-range bomber aircraft with capability for unmanned operation.

Boeing B-52 Stratofortress

The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is an American long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber. The B-52 was designed and built by Boeing, which has continued to provide support and upgrades. It has been operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) since the 1950s. The bomber is capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg) of weapons, and has a typical combat range of more than 8,800 miles (14,080 km) without aerial refueling.Beginning with the successful contract bid in June 1946, the B-52 design evolved from a straight wing aircraft powered by six turboprop engines to the final prototype YB-52 with eight turbojet engines and swept wings. The B-52 took its maiden flight in April 1952. Built to carry nuclear weapons for Cold War-era deterrence missions, the B-52 Stratofortress replaced the Convair B-36. A veteran of several wars, the B-52 has dropped only conventional munitions in combat. The B-52's official name Stratofortress is rarely used; informally, the aircraft has become commonly referred to as the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fucker/Fella).The B-52 has been in active service with the USAF since 1955. As of December 2015, 58 were in active service with 18 in reserve. The bombers flew under the Strategic Air Command (SAC) until it was disestablished in 1992 and its aircraft absorbed into the Air Combat Command (ACC); in 2010, all B-52 Stratofortresses were transferred from the ACC to the newly created Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC). Superior performance at high subsonic speeds and relatively low operating costs have kept the B-52 in service despite the advent of later, more advanced aircraft, including the Mach 2+ B-58 Hustler, the canceled Mach 3 B-70 Valkyrie, the variable-geometry B-1 Lancer, and the stealth B-2 Spirit. The B-52 completed sixty years of continuous service with its original operator in 2015. After being upgraded between 2013 and 2015, it is expected to serve into the 2050s.

Heavy bomber

Heavy bombers are bomber aircraft capable of delivering the largest payload of air-to-ground weaponry (usually bombs) and longest range of their era. Archetypal heavy bombers have therefore usually been among the largest and most powerful military aircraft at any point in time. In the second half of the 20th century, heavy bombers were largely superseded by strategic bombers, which were often smaller in size, but were capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Because of advances in aircraft design and engineering — especially in powerplants and aerodynamics — the size of payloads carried by heavy bombers have increased at rates greater than increases in the size of their airframes. The largest bombers of World War I, the four engine aircraft built by the Zeppelin-Staaken company in Germany, could carry a payload of up to 4,400 pounds (2,000 kg) of bombs. By the middle of World War II even a single-engine fighter-bomber could carry a 2,000-pound (910 kg) bomb load, and such aircraft were taking over from light and medium bombers in the tactical bombing role. Advancements in four-engine aircraft design enabled heavy bombers to carry even larger payloads to targets thousands of kilometres away. For instance, the Avro Lancaster (introduced in 1942) routinely delivered payloads of 14,000 pounds (6,400 kg) (and sometimes up to 22,000 lb/10,000 kg) and had a range of 2,530 miles (4,070 km). The B-29 (1944) delivered payloads in excess of 20,000 pounds (9,100 kg) and had a range of 3,250 miles (5,230 km). By the early 1960s, the jet-powered Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, travelling at speeds of up to 650 miles per hour (1,050 km/h) (i.e., more than double that of a Lancaster), could deliver a payload of 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg), over a combat radius of 4,480 miles (7,210 km).

During World War II, mass production techniques made available large, long-range heavy bombers in such quantities as to allow strategic bombing campaigns to be developed and employed. This culminated in August 1945, when B-29s of the United States Army Air Forces dropped atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, contributing significantly to the end of hostilities.

The arrival of nuclear weapons and guided missiles permanently changed the nature of military aviation and strategy. After the 1950s intercontinental ballistic missiles and ballistic missile submarines began to supersede heavy bombers in the strategic nuclear role. Along with the emergence of more accurate precision-guided munitions ("smart bombs") and nuclear-armed missiles, which could be carried and delivered by smaller aircraft, these technological advancements eclipsed the heavy bomber's once-central role in strategic warfare by the late 20th century. Heavy bombers have, nevertheless, been used to deliver conventional weapons in several regional conflicts since World War II (e.g., B-52s in the Vietnam War).

Heavy bombers are now operated only by the air forces of the United States, Russia and China. They serve in both strategic and tactical bombing roles.

Next-Generation Bomber

The Next-Generation Bomber (NGB; unofficially called 2018 Bomber) was a program to develop a new medium bomber for the United States Air Force. The NGB was initially projected to enter service around 2018 as a stealthy, subsonic, medium-range, medium payload bomber to supplement and possibly—to a limited degree—replace the U.S. Air Force's aging bomber fleet (B-52 Stratofortress and B-1 Lancer). The NGB program was superseded by the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) heavy bomber program.

Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider

The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is a proposed American heavy bomber under development by Northrop Grumman. As part of the Long Range Strike Bomber program (LRS-B), it is to be a very long-range, stealth strategic bomber for the United States Air Force capable of delivering conventional and thermonuclear weapons.The bomber is expected to enter service by 2025. It is to complement existing Rockwell B-1 Lancer, Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber fleets in U.S. service and eventually replace these bombers.

Strategic bomber

A strategic bomber is a medium to long range penetration bomber aircraft designed to drop large amounts of air-to-ground weaponry onto a distant target for the purposes of debilitating the enemy's capacity to wage war. Unlike tactical bombers, penetrators, fighter-bombers, and attack aircraft, which are used in air interdiction operations to attack enemy combatants and military equipment, strategic bombers are designed to fly into enemy territory to destroy strategic targets (e.g., infrastructure, logistics, military installations, factories, and cities). In addition to strategic bombing, strategic bombers can be used for tactical missions. There are currently only two countries that operate strategic bombers: the United States and Russia.The modern strategic bomber role appeared after strategic bombing was widely employed, and atomic bombs were first used in combat during World War II. Nuclear strike missions (i.e., delivering nuclear-armed missiles or bombs) can potentially be carried out by most modern fighter-bombers and strike fighters, even at intercontinental range, with the use of aerial refueling, so any nation possessing this combination of equipment and techniques theoretically has such capability. Primary delivery aircraft for a modern strategic bombing mission need not always necessarily be a heavy bomber type, and any modern aircraft capable of nuclear strikes at long range is equally able to carry out tactical missions with conventional weapons. An example is France's Mirage IV, a small strategic bomber replaced in service by the ASMP-equipped Mirage 2000N fighter-bomber and Rafale multirole fighter.

USAAS/USAAC/USAAF/USAF bomber designations, Army/Air Force and Tri-Service systems
Original sequences
(1924–1930)
Main sequence
(1930–1962)
Long-range Bomber
(1935–1936)
Non-sequential
Tri-Service sequence
(1962–current)

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