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Air Force wants the new bomber in the mid 2020s

The budget crunch in the U.S. continues to hit the military hard as spending is cut and troop levels are diminished. Despite the tightening belt, the Air Force will be moving ahead with its new long-range bomber program. In fact, the timeframe for the bomber has actually been pushed forward.
 
“We expect that there will be a full RFP [request for proposals], a final RFP and a competition probably in the fall time frame,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said at a February 26 event hosted by Bloomberg.
 
There are currently two teams working on competing proposals for the next generation bomber. The report believes that the two teams are Northrop Grumman and a tag team effort from Lockheed Martin/Boeing. The competition to choose a bomber design could begin this year with a winning aircraft chosen in 2015.


Artist rendering of the next gen bomber [Image Source: Boeing]
 
When it comes to making details of the program available to the public, some believe that divulging as much [unclassified] information as possible is the proper route.
 
Analyst Rebecca Grant added, "I think this program is way over-mystified. There should be a separation between protecting technology and design, and having the common sense about the program itself. Obviously, a lot about the system is and should remain classified, but the program itself doesn’t need to be classified.”
 
The Air Force hopes to have the new bomber ready for use on the battlefield by the mid-2020s. The Air Force has plans to purchase 80 to 100 of the aircraft at a cost of $550 million per unit. For comparison, 21 B-2 Spirit bombers were produced (at a cost of $737 million each), while 100 B-1B Lancer bombers were constructed (at a cost of $283 million each).
 
Costs are being kept low on the bomber in part by sourcing tech that has been used on other aircraft like the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and the Navy’s unmanned X-47B drone.

Source: Defense News



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Too many $ to risk
By ssobol on 3/4/2014 1:11:00 PM , Rating: 1
By the time they actually get these into service, they'll find that they are way too expensive to actually risk using for the intended mission. Sort of like the F-22.




RE: Too many $ to risk
By lagomorpha on 3/4/2014 2:11:05 PM , Rating: 3
It's too bad they can't just pull up the drawings for the B-52, swap out the 8 tubojets for 4 turbofans, put in the order to Boeing for new airframes and call it a day. They'd probably figure out a way to drive the costs for that bombtruck program through the roof as well though.

$550 million is the cost of 1.5 Boeing 777-9Xs. For that to be the unit cost for a much smaller production run for a next generation bomber seems panglossian. I wonder what the actual unit cost will be in 2030 dollars.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By Jeffk464 on 3/4/2014 3:05:37 PM , Rating: 3
B52's currently have small fans on them. At higher altitudes and speeds the fans become less efficient. My understanding low altitude low speed turbo-props are most efficient, at medium altitudes and medium speeds turbo-fans are the most efficient, and at super high speeds and high altitudes you pretty much need a straight jet.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By lagomorpha on 3/4/2014 4:49:26 PM , Rating: 2
Seems you're partially right. The 8x Pratt & Whitney JT3D that the B-52 has are low bypass (bypass ratio 1.42:1) turbofans based on the JT3C turbojet. So they're mild turbofans that act more like turbojets. The 4x turbofans that Boeing suggested changing to in the 70s (Rolls-Royce RB211 535E-4) have a bypass ratio of 4.3-4.4. Congress would rather spend untold billions on a new bomber than a tiny fraction of that money to modernize the B-52s.

quote:
The GAO report was subsequently disputed in a Defense Sciences Board report in 2003; the Air Force was urged to re-engine the aircraft without delay.[106] Further, the DSB report stated the program would have significant savings, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase aircraft range and endurance; in line with the conclusions of a separate Congress-funded study conducted in 2003.[107] The re-engining has not been approved as of 2013.


I'd link my sources but Dailytech's spam filter has been getting nutty again.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By lagomorpha on 3/4/2014 4:52:31 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
at medium altitudes and medium speeds turbo-fans are the most efficient, and at super high speeds and high altitudes you pretty much need a straight jet.


B52 has a maximum speed of 650mph and ceiling of 50,000 feet. That's high bypass turbofan territory.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By TSS on 3/4/2014 6:39:25 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I wonder what the actual unit cost will be in 2030 dollars.


Well, $550 million in todays money was $383,257,237.64 16 years ago, in 1998. That's 30.3% less. Assuming the average inflation rate stays the same, that'll be $716,650,000 in 2030.

Though it'd be a bigger question wether or not you can afford it in 16 years. Afterall, 16 years ago the national debt stood at $5,526 trillion. Now it's $17,444 trillion, a 310% increase. If that continues at the same pace as well, it'll be $54,076 trillion in 2030.

Correcting it for the assumed 30% devaluation through inflation, it'll be the same as having $37,691 trillion in debt today.

As a footnote, interest on the national debt would also be 310% higher, going from $415 billion in 2013 to $1,286 trillion in 2030. By comparison, taking 30,3% off that that'd be $897 billion in today's dollars, or approximately as much as social security cost in it's entirety in fiscal 2013.

In simple terms, ya got bigger things to worry bout then the inflation cost of a couple of bombers....


RE: Too many $ to risk
By lagomorpha on 3/4/2014 8:01:21 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
As a footnote, interest on the national debt would also be 310% higher, going from $415 billion in 2013 to $1,286 trillion in 2030


Assuming our credit rating remained the same which seems optimistic.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By marvdmartian on 3/5/2014 7:49:47 AM , Rating: 2
We could just go the (author) Dale Brown route, and make the existing BUFF's "stealthy". ;)


RE: Too many $ to risk
By sorry dog on 3/5/2014 6:53:11 PM , Rating: 2
If you took a freight conversion 772 or a 773 conversion and added a bomb bay, pylons, and fire control/avionics it would probably be around that 600 mil number, and be superior airframe to any B52 refurb...and after 70 years I can imagine that to combat corrosion you might pretty much building new B52's a few pieces at a time, so money saved there either.

There really just ain't a cheap way to do this...


RE: Too many $ to risk
By Reclaimer77 on 3/5/2014 12:12:35 AM , Rating: 2
This is ridiculous. We already have the B-1 and B-2 bombers. That's all we need for a bomber fleet! A tactical stealth bomber, and a Mach speed attack bomber. Make more of each, problem solved!

I'm not one of those "zomg military industrial complex" guys. But the pattern is pretty clear. Make up stupid reasons to cancel perfectly viable aircraft, so that ever more expensive programs can be called for, rinse and repeat.

And when it's all said and done, we're no better off than before we began. I'm looking at you, 'Joint Strike Fighter'!


RE: Too many $ to risk
By Bad-Karma on 3/5/2014 2:44:20 AM , Rating: 2
Unfortunately the half of the B-1 fleet has been placed into the boneyard as their service life is expiring with no money to refit them. This was a cost saving measure so that operating expense of 1/2 could help keep the other half flying. Also the B-1B was never quite what the USAF wanted. The B-1(A) was a far better version until Carter killed it back in the 70's. The (B) model was filled with mission and performance compromises to comply with budget when it was resurrected. Remember, that the B-1A was in itself a compromise to fill the role originally envisioned for the XB-70.

The B2s are a different story. There are already too few of them to run at high ops tempo for very long. I believe all the jigs and dies have been destroyed by congressional order.

What none here realize is that an unmanned 'bomb truck' is what the USAF has been moving toward even since desert storm. With smart weapons doing a majority of the work normally done by the crew, all that is needed is for the weapon to get withing it's targeting envelope. The f-117 and B-2s, The targeting data is preloaded, and well as known threats and mission course. Once the aircraft gets to within the weapons range. the bomb doors open, the weapon is released, doors close, and the AC moves on to the next release point. Pilot is really only there should something need to be 'adjusted'.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan it is the AOCs doing all the targeting & weapons planning. The only thing the crews are doing is getting the aircraft up in the air and into the general area. Even with emerging threats targeting you're seeing the AOC select which weapons will be launched as well as passing all the targeting data up to the AC. Once the AC gets within range the smart weapon drops off the rails, at which point the AC starts moving back to its loiter orbit.

THE USAF's biggest expenditure is on personnel. So if you can get rid of that plus the risk to them. All the better. Everyone always thinks that 'Drones' means that there is no man in the loop. Which is wrong. There are still pilots sitting in a virtual cockpit located back at base or even in the states.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By sorry dog on 3/5/2014 7:05:12 PM , Rating: 2
Claimer usually has some merit to his comments but this time is completely uninformed. By 2030 the B2 will be 40 years old, partially obsolete, and airframes that are grounded because of hours. The Bones are even older... Would reclaimer's airforce be 500 surplus 757's with stealth paint... At least they could do CatIII landings, something that B52's and drones can't do.

On the subject of drones...the technology isn't quite there to be one of the primary iron lifters in the air force. Just too many limitations in their flight operations and mission capability isn't there either.

Standoff weapons are great but if you ever get into a protracted scenario, it will get very expensive at multi millions per shot.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By freaqie on 3/9/2014 12:58:00 PM , Rating: 2
Unfortunately the half of the B-1 fleet has been placed into the boneyard as their service life is expiring with no money to refit them.

except for 550 million dollers per plane for a new aircraft...
right....


RE: Too many $ to risk
By Bad-Karma on 3/14/2014 11:16:15 AM , Rating: 2
The B-1 has been out of production since 1988. At the termination of the contract Congress ordered all tools, dies, jigs, etc destroyed. Only 100 B-1Bs were ever made with about a dozen lost through accidents.

The biggest issue with them has always been that the program's on again off again nature (thanks to Carter) plus the design cutbacks when it moved to the B-1B, extended out the acquisition to the point that the birds were already obsolete to the threats of it's day. The B-1B is literally a horse designed by a committee, the proverbial camel.

Now many of the birds are nearing their life expectancy and can no longer be flown without major structural overhaul.

So without those production lines still being open, and the other half of the planes in the boneyard thanks to high hours, there are very few parts left to keep the rest flying. The B-1B is as good as dead.

$550M each wouldn't even approach what it would take to retool the lines just to repair the fleet and modernize them by today's standards. And since the design is obsolete why would you want to?


RE: Too many $ to risk
By inperfectdarkness on 3/6/2014 4:59:30 AM , Rating: 2
No.

First of all, we don't need a mach-speed attack bomber. The best thing about the B1's supersonic capability is that it makes a terrific ruckus when making a 500' AGL pass for a show of force. The speed is useless for everything else. Missiles will still fly faster; fighters are both faster and more maneuverable. Overall though, the best feature of the B1 is payload--which dwarfs the B52 when it comes to internal payload (and we haven't used wing-mounted munitions since probably vietnam).

The USAF needs a bomb-truck...as so many have posted. What would make the most sense is having something that is a blood-relative of a commercial jet, which would make sourcing and maintaining it cheaper with COTS (commercial off the shelf) than Mil-Spec. What we need is loiter time, targeting pods, and GBU-54's. Stealth is completely superfluous--nice to have, but totally unnecessary for this application.

Cruise Missiles are not a viable alternative. At 1.5 Million per strike, they are far more expensive than a $75,000 JDAM. Additionally, a cruise missile has a longer TIF (time in flight) than a JDAM, which makes it both more succeptible to interception or advance warning--and a worse choice in a situation where a last-minute abort may be called for. This also makes a cruise missile a poor choice for a TST (time sensitive target) where there may be mere minutes to drop iron and take out an HVT (high value target); when an orbiting bomber can smack the target in as little as 30-40 seconds.

The cost may seem a little high (it does to me too), but at the same time, if we're talking about a weapon system with 70% parts compatibility with a commercial jet airliner--that might very well be worth it. Lord knows that the USAF's 707 fleet is aging badly...and we need a new commercial-based airframe to form the backbone of our tanker, ISR and hopefully bomber fleet in the future.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By Reclaimer77 on 3/6/2014 9:12:19 AM , Rating: 2
No offense, your idea has merit, but I cannot see any possibility that our military goes with a commercial jet bomber variant type design. Just not going to happen.

quote:
The speed is useless for everything else.


Strongly disagree. Speed is NEVER "useless". Can you tell me our bombers will NEVER come under fire, or have to vacate a hot area?

Fighters faster? The B-1 bomber could out-run any fighter at sea level. In military exercises a B-1 pilot could slip though defensive networks where F-16s and F-15s were specifically looking for him. Even if they could find him, they couldn't get a lock.

The times the fighters do find the Bones, they can't keep up, and when they try to go low and follow the Bone in the terrain, they can't maneuver enough.

I've heard B-1 bomber crews state they were more afraid of an AK or SAM than any fighter on the planet.

I just don't see why we constantly shelve perfectly good bombers before their time, then claim we need "new" bomber designs. It's ridiculous when the same cycle will just repeat itself.

This is why projects are never on-time or on-budget anymore.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By inperfectdarkness on 3/7/2014 5:38:26 AM , Rating: 2
The thing is, we don't need a new B1. What we need--and what we're talking about here--is a successor to the B52.

As to your other comments, bombers would almost never be used in a high-threat environment if a fighter COMAO could fulfill the same task. Furthermore, the B1 is not stealthy. Not even close to what the B2 has. It might be less "obvious" than the B52, but I can guarantee you the B1 has a larger RCS than an F15--Period.

Now I'm not sure what "mock" exercise you're referring to, but look-down; shoot-down has been a staple of fighters since the debut of 4th gen. Meaning that a figheter doesn't have to be co-altitude with a B1 to lob a missile into it. Additionally, due to having 4 engines, the B1 has a MASSIVE heat-signature...which renders it detectable by everything from FLIR to SAM's.

P.S.

What fighter can't maneuver in terrain? I dare you to say that to a Tornado or Strike Eagle pilot's face.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By DougF on 3/8/2014 2:50:57 AM , Rating: 2
He is correct, just because a fighter has look-down shoot-down capability, does not mean he can a) find the target, or b) is anywhere close to the parameters to engage the target. Moving extremely fast at low level is a very successful method of penetration to (assuming you do not care about anyone hearing you) or egress from a target. F-111s and Tornados used this tactic quite successfully against combat air patrols on any number of exercises, and current aircraft still do. I have personal experience where my F-111s were able to hit Mach 1.2 @ 200ft with F-15s and F-16s either unable to find them, or unable to converge on them before they bombed their target and egressed the exercise area.
We don't need to where we establish air dominance (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.), but if we were to go up against a defended airspace, we would.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By Reclaimer77 on 3/6/2014 9:12:20 AM , Rating: 1
No offense, your idea has merit, but I cannot see any possibility that our military goes with a commercial jet bomber variant type design. Just not going to happen.

quote:
The speed is useless for everything else.


Strongly disagree. Speed is NEVER "useless". Can you tell me our bombers will NEVER come under fire, or have to vacate a hot area?

Fighters faster? The B-1 bomber could out-run any fighter at sea level. In military exercises a B-1 pilot could slip though defensive networks where F-16s and F-15s were specifically looking for him. Even if they could find him, they couldn't get a lock.

The times the fighters do find the Bones, they can't keep up, and when they try to go low and follow the Bone in the terrain, they can't maneuver enough.

I've heard B-1 bomber crews state they were more afraid of an AK or SAM than any fighter on the planet.

I just don't see why we constantly shelve perfectly good bombers before their time, then claim we need "new" bomber designs. It's ridiculous when the same cycle will just repeat itself.

This is why projects are never on-time or on-budget anymore.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By Bad-Karma on 3/5/2014 2:08:43 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
they'll find that they are way too expensive to actually risk using for the intended mission


That's what was said about the B-2s. Yet, we flew them to allied force in 99' and continue to use them in every conflict since. Even the F-22s have been moved to regional hotspots several times. There just haven't been any engagements to get them in the headlines.


RE: Too many $ to risk
By lagomorpha on 3/5/2014 5:16:11 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
That's what was said about the B-2s. Yet, we flew them to allied force in 99' and continue to use them in every conflict since.


And the B-2s are expensive to use for daily missions. They were meant to sit around in climate controlled hangers for decades before finally being called upon for one big quick war. They were never designed for being used constantly and as a result are a maintenance nightmare (eg have to cut off the entire wing to change a fuel pump).


Cost:Benefit analysis...
By Amiga500 on 3/4/2014 2:14:01 PM , Rating: 3
So, 100 x $550 million = $55000 million.

A Tomahawk costs around $1.5 million.

Is a fleet of 100 such bombers* really more effective than 36,670 cruise missiles? Under what circumstances?

*that lets face it, will never exist for a program cost of "just" $55 billion.




RE: Cost:Benefit analysis...
By Murloc on 3/4/2014 3:38:10 PM , Rating: 2
well they have a range of 1300 km or something, maybe these tactical bombers will have longer range and be less detectable or something.

Still, they're useless in most modern scenarios, but I guess you have to have some to maintain the capability to destroy china and russia.


RE: Cost:Benefit analysis...
By mellomonk on 3/4/2014 4:24:59 PM , Rating: 2
A Tomahawk is great for a precision strike on a high value fixed target. But an orbiting 'bomb-truck' has the ability to drop on minutes notice to respond to a specific situation or need. JDAMs are a hell of a lot cheaper then whole Tomahawks. A manned bomber or even a man driven drone bomber still has it's place. A tomahawk or other purely robotic aircraft has limited ability to evade or react to defenses thrown at it. Situational awareness and flexibility still has value.


RE: Cost:Benefit analysis...
By drycrust3 on 3/4/2014 4:53:21 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Is a fleet of 100 such bombers* really more effective than 36,670 cruise missiles?

One of the important points of the program is to have a leading edge bomber. That said, the object of a bomber has been to deliver a large amount of cheap explosives onto a target, and there's the problem: a bomber isn't cheap, especially a leading edge bomber. A Tomahawk missile is, by military aircraft standards, cheap. According to Wikipedia, it has a payload of 450 kg, while that of a bomber might be 20 times that (9000kg), which means to do the same job as 1 bomber you need to fire off 20 Tomahawk missiles.
My guess is the average cruise missile has more or less the same navigational capabilities as the average bomber, which really makes your question a valid one: why do you need the new bomber? Knowing next to nothing about bombers, my recollection is the most useful planes of WW2 e.g. the JU 88, the Mosquito, etc, started out as bombers. So a bomber is capable of being more than a means of carrying explosives to a target, but a cruise missile is limited in what it can do.
One major point of this new bomber is to be a development platform for new technology, but equally you could use a new missile or a new tank or a new helicopter as that platform.
With all these projects, the big problems occur when you find the proposed new technology of some major element in the plane, tank, missile, etc, is too far behind what the design called for.
That is what I think is the problem with the F35, its design called for too many things that weren't current technology, and so the project stalls while the new technology is developed, but then there is some unexpected limitation with the new technology that wasn't thought of when the F35 was designed, so you need to redo part of the design, but when you strengthen that part of the design it demands more from something else, so you need to change that something else and on and on it goes. The real problem is decisions were made on the expectation the F35 would be now operational, but it still isn't.
I suspect that will be the problem with this bomber too.
The famous German tank commander Guderian said something along the lines of "Unreliable tanks are almost as bad as no tanks." The same can be said of fighters and bombers that are too far ahead of the current technology.


RE: Cost:Benefit analysis...
By inperfectdarkness on 3/6/2014 5:20:25 AM , Rating: 2
A B1B can carry 125,000 lbs of munitions. Assuming this new bomber can carry HALF of that--if we're talking about GBU-38/54's that's 125 bombs; each of which can be precisely directed.

125 bombs * ~$70,000 each = $8,750,000. The same number of cruise missiles = $187,500,000. That's over 20 times as much.

Now I won't sit here and lecture about strategy and the like, but I would think that it should be self-evident that the cost is not altogether out of line when you compare it to other kinetic options for neutralizing a target. Then when you factor in response time, etc...you end up with a significant capability that can't readily be addressed by any other weapon system. Furthermore, cruise missiles can also be launched by bombers, further adding to the versatility of a bomber (for a combat theatre which is landlocked for hundreds of miles in relation to a CSG--carrier strike group).

At the end of the day, it's really a simple function of loiter time and response time (which are heavily correlated). And a cruise missile doesn't work on moving targets at all.


RE: Cost:Benefit analysis...
By drycrust3 on 3/6/2014 8:28:41 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
And a cruise missile doesn't work on moving targets at all.

And how difficult would it be to put the sort of functionality that enables you do that into a cruise missile? If a drone can fly around for hours at a high altitude and feed live video of people on the ground to a remote location, it isn't inconceivable to put that same technology into a cruise missile. You could, for example, put the same video capability into a cruise missile, fly it near a convoy, pick out the most important ship in the convoy, then aim your cruise missile at just that one vessel. Sure, that probably shows my complete military ineptness, but how difficult is that technology to develop? I'm guessing it isn't very expensive on a military technology basis.


By inperfectdarkness on 3/7/2014 5:25:59 AM , Rating: 2
Missiles are not designed to loiter. They could certainly be modified with a PAVEWAY LGB system, but that would still require something to "paint" the target (which in most cases means an airborne asset). And for the record, last-second course corrections become exponentially more difficult the faster the projectile is flying.

Rather than tasking a UAV to paint a bullseye on a target so we can schwack it with a Tomahawk, it logistically (and in the long run financially) makes much more sense to have a single platform fulfilling the "hunter-killer" role--with regards to this specific arena.


Are you kidding me???
By Torgog on 3/4/2014 11:08:46 AM , Rating: 3
$550 million each??? What a pipe dream! Prices will escalate due to boutique add-on items, forcing a reduction in units, thereby driving up the price of each unit. I anticipate at least a cool 1 Billion each.




RE: Are you kidding me???
By Dribble on 3/4/2014 11:32:50 AM , Rating: 2
And "ready for the battlefield" sometime after 2030. Then they'll discover it costs a fortune to maintain and fly the thing and go back to using B-52's most of the time.


RE: Are you kidding me???
By TheDoc9 on 3/4/2014 12:01:35 PM , Rating: 3
Final Cost: 7B each
Total ordered: 5


RE: Are you kidding me???
By Jeffk464 on 3/4/2014 12:25:18 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Prices will escalate


That does sound a little familiar.


RE: Are you kidding me???
By Reclaimer77 on 3/4/2014 2:07:06 PM , Rating: 1
LMAO 500 million! I lost it when I read that...just...AHAHAHAHA!!!

This Government would spend more than that putting B-17's into service!

AHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!! Holy shit, I can't breath.


RE: Are you kidding me???
By deltaend on 3/4/2014 4:05:07 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe, but maybe not. A multi-purpose vehicle is much harder to plan and design for than a single purpose vehicle. The reality is that a bomber like this, assuming that it is supposed to be part of the new high altitude, high stealth, long range, low payload bombers, then it probably won't be as costly as building a dogfighter, Swiss army knife plane.


Too early for April Fools...
By bsim50 on 3/4/2014 5:01:54 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
"The Air Force hopes to have the new bomber ready for use on the battlefield by the mid-2020s. The Air Force has plans to purchase 80 to 100 of the aircraft at a cost of $550 million per unit."

LOL. If the "$35m" F-35's are anything to go by, you're looking at anywhere between $3-7bn each and in service by 2040-2050...




By lagomorpha on 3/4/2014 6:09:26 PM , Rating: 2
Nah, unlike the F35 the bomber will only have one task and we've had the technology to master that task for half a century. It will probably only end up being $2-3 billion each.


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