August 24, 2014 by JImbo
As of right now, there is a stealth bomber program competing for corporate bids. California (and probably other states) are offering tax breaks. They’re expected to “choose a winner” early next year.
Meanwhile, it’s so “secret” we haven’t even heard any details on it! Hmmmmm. So much for that new “transparency in government.” There’s been rumors, but this is about all we know “officially.”
Those who don’t give a crap about airplanes or politics or the military can go read something else. This’ll be boring. However, if those few interested will indulge me…
I think we’re being hoodwinked again. Corporate cronies trying to fill their pockets and sell a piece of junk to the Air Force… or rather us taxpayers. We’re gonna get sold a line of crap that we NEED a new stealth bomber that we frankly don’t. Honestly, it would HURT our military readiness to invest our precious tax money in a boondoggle that might not even WORK.
(In another couple decades, stealth might not even work that well. Radar technology is advancing faster than “stealth” and could be rendered less effective or even practically ineffective before this plane even flies!
There’s a better way. A more effective way. A cheaper way. Read on.
“Next Generation Bomber” (NGB) Design
(also known as the “LRS-B”)
The design goals in January 2011 were:
- Total program cost estimated at $40 to $50 billion.
- Fleet size of 175 aircraft: 120 for ten combat squadrons, plus 55 for training and reserves.
- Subsonic maximum speed.
- Range: 5,000+ nautical miles (9,260+ km).
- “Optionally manned” (for non-nuclear missions).
- Total mission durations of 50 to 100 hours (when unmanned).
- A weapons load of 14,000–28,000 lb (6,350–12,700 kg).
- Ability to “survive daylight raids in heavily defended enemy territory”.
- Ability to carry nuclear weapons.
- Designed to use off-the-shelf propulsion, C4ISR, and radar technologies.
- Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance along with command and control gear to enable the crew to direct other aircraft and forces.
An August 2008 paper by Northrop Grumman highlighted the following trends and requirements:
- Airfields available for American use have declined since the Cold War.
- Hostile cruise and ballistic missiles could shut down the few available airfields.
- Fewer fighter aircraft will be available to escort the bomber force.
- Advanced fighter aircraft and surface to air missiles are being made available to potentially hostile states.
- The current USAF bomber force is small and largely outdated.
The experts appear to be assuming that it will be a modern stealth aircraft, based on the B-2 bomber or maybe F-22 stealth fighter technology.
Do we really NEED a new plane? Do we need a new plane that will need to be replaced quickly?
Consider that the B-52 bomber first flew in 1954 and it’s STILL IN SERVICE. It will be for years more.
Because stealth only gets you so far.
- You can’t change stealth without changing the WHOLE thing since it’s all about airframe shape.
- You can’t change the systems on board much because they have to fit in specific spaces, limited by the stealth shape.
- It can be overcome by more advanced radars, which are relatively easy to swap onto older aircraft.
- Stealth is EXPENSIVE. So, fewer airframes.
That’s why the B-52 is still in service when it’s “replacements” have come and gone.
Yet the B-52 is still serving on the front lines!
It’s about being smart and practical, not expensive. The B-52 doesn’t hang around enemy airspace. It doesn’t bother trying to sneak in. It’s a flying barn door you can see for miles.
What it does is fly a long way, get to the edge of enemy defenses and launches a LOT of cruise missiles. Then, the cruise missiles go destroy the targets. The enemy never even gets to SHOOT at the B-52 in the first place.
For less defended targets (say in Afghanistan) the B-52 can fly over them and unload a LOT of cheap bombs on target. It’s cheap to fly (relatively), reliable and simple. If you don’t have too many fancy electronics on board or stealth coatings to deal with, there’s less to break.
It’s built like a 1950s pickup truck, whereas the B-2 is built like an all-electronic brand new sports car. Flashy, but often in the shop. The B-52 just keeps chugging along.
Now, we COULD build more B-52s. They’d only cost a FRACTION of the cost of a new B-2. The Air Force is estimating a $1 billion cost per aircraft for the new cool LRS-B bombers. You could make a new B-52 today with new engines, avionics, etc for maybe 10% of that. So, it’s 100 (maybe less) of the cool new airplanes or 1,000 new-build B-52’s.
(I know it’ll be a LOT more than that anyway. The B-2 came out to about $2.1 billion each back in 1997. Do you really think it’ll be CHEAPER to develop a brand new stealth plane today?)
I know there are other factors involved. New B-52s would have more fuel efficient engines, would need fewer crew, etc. Yes we could improve them. However, in the end they’re still bombers.
Do we even NEED a bomber? Think about it. The 99% of the time we’re NOT at war needing a long range bomber, what do they do? Sit around.
I think our best bet is a “Harvest Hawk IV” program. The C-130 is another design from the early 1950s. It has been updated over and over and is still coming off the assembly lines! So, we don’t have to restart a factory. We can simply order them up and they’ll be CHEAP since we’re already buying them for our cargo squadrons!
Yes, the C-130 isn’t a bomber. It’s a transport plane. However, it’s more than that.
The KC-130 versions are tankers with a huge fuel tank in the cargo bay. Normally this is used to refuel airplanes and helicopters in flight. It can ALSO be used by the C-130 to enable it to fly a looooooong ways.
In addition, the C-130 has two wing pylons.. normally for fuel tanks but stressed for a LOT of weight. (A 1,300 gallon fuel tank weighs about 9,000 lbs) Those could easily be used to mount cruise missiles. (They did this way back during the Vietnam War) Remember, all you have to do is carry them close enough to enemy territory and let them go. The cruise missiles do the rest.
That’s at least 2-3 cruise missiles per wing on existing aircraft. In addition, there’s a new “Harvest Hawk” program that the US Marines have put on their KC-130 tankers that enables the planes to carry Hellfire or other missiles farther out on the wings. Those could carry more ALCMS (Air Launched Cruise Missiles) or even defensive missiles (just in case the enemy comes out to play.) Or, you can use them to carry Cruise Missiles and then keep the other pylons open for fuel tanks.
Now, the KC-130J is only about $80 million apiece. Throw in the Harvest Hawk if you want and you get some AWESOME capabilities for maybe $85 million apiece. Since all the research is already done, you can buy 12 KC-130’s kitted out for the cost of ONE of the new LRS-B bombers.
They can also be bought TODAY, not in 20 years after billions in development costs.
Further, it can do things that a LRS-B couldn’t.
First of all, it’s a CARGO PLANE. If you don’t need a bomber, don’t put cruise missiles on it. It’s then a tanker plane (which we never seem to have enough of) NOT buying 100 stealth boondoggles would mean we could buy 1,200 new tankers for the same price!
No, we probably don’t need THAT many, but the fuel tank in the cargo bay is easy to take out. So, maybe make half of them into cargo types. Hey, either way they’re a few hours of wrench turning from being a Cargo, Tanker or Bomber!
They’re MUCH cheaper than the stealths to fly and having 1,200 of them essentially DOUBLES the number of cargo aircraft we’d have in the USAF and DOUBLE the number of tankers! All for no additional cost since they’re still there if we need to lob cruise missiles at the bad guys.
Strategically we can deploy them all over and not raise alarms. They are unarmed cargo planes after all 99% of the time. Plus, they can get into short runways, civilian airports, even land on aircraft carriers! (Yeah, the C-130 HAS landed on aircraft carriers in the past. Pilots say it’s “quite easy” too… imagine that!)
Finally, since they are all tanker-equipped, if they need to fly EXTRA far you can take half of them to refuel the other half on the way to the target and they get even MORE range! It’s simply amazing what we could do with all those new, flexible aircraft.
Best of all is that they wouldn’t need to be trashed once they could be detected (like a stealth.) They would still be good cargo planes and tankers! All that is going into enemy airspace is the cruise missile part. Those are relatively cheap and we could keep upgrading our cruise missiles over and over instead.
Those are cheaper and easier to replace. Keep the ALCMs upgraded and the whole system works.
It’s really a Win-Win-Win solution.
(Unless you’re a hard core bomber pilot who has a hard on for going deep into enemy airspace on dangerous missions to tell stories at the bar. Then you’re out of a job because a “box jockey” cargo pilot is doing your job at a fraction of the cost part-time.)
Consider which would be more effective.
One super-expensive (and possibly not as stealthy as we think) bomber flying OVER the enemy and dropping bombs? With just a slight chance of being shot down?
Or 12 KC-130J’s carrying up to 8 cruise missiles apiece lobbing 96 cruise missiles at up to 96 different targets from outside enemy defense range… loading up and doing it again… and again?
Or one super-expensive stealth bomber sitting in a hangar day in and day out… or 12 C-130’s out performing missions every day across the globe?