Classifications of bombers
Strategic bombers are primarily designed for long-range bombing missions against strategic targets such as supply bases, bridges, factories, shipyards, and cities themselves, in order to damage an enemy's war effort. Current examples include the nuclear-armed: B-2 Spirit, B-52 Stratofortress, Tupolev Tu-95 'Bear', Tupolev Tu-22M 'Backfire'; historically notable examples are the: Gotha G, Avro Lancaster, Heinkel He-111, Junkers Ju 88, B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-29 Superfortress, and Tupolev Tu-16 'Badger'.
Tactical bombing, aimed at enemy's military units and installations, is typically assigned to smaller aircraft operating at shorter ranges, typically along the troops on the ground or sea. This role is filled by various aircraft classes, as different as light bombers, medium bombers, dive bombers, fighter-bombers, ground-attack aircraft, multirole combat aircraft, among others. Current examples: F-15E Strike Eagle, F/A-18 Hornet, Sukhoi Su-34 'Fullback', Chengdu J-10, Xian JH-7, Dassault-Breguet Mirage 2000, and the Panavia Tornado; historical examples: Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik, Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, P-47 Thunderbolt, Hawker Typhoon, and F-4 Phantom II.
The first use of an air-dropped bomb was carried out by the Italians, initially by Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti, in their 1911 war for Libya. In 1912 Bulgarian Air Force pilot Christo Toprakchiev suggested the use of airplanes to drop "bombs" (as grenades were called in the Bulgarian army at this time) on Turkish positions. Captain Simeon Petrov developed the idea and created several prototypes by adapting different types of grenades and increasing their payload. On October 16, 1912, observer Prodan Tarakchiev dropped two of those bombs on the Turkish railway station of Karaagac (near the besieged Edirne) from an Albatros F.II airplane piloted by Radul Milkov.
After a number of tests Petrov created the final design, with improved aerodynamics, an X-shaped tail and impact detonator. This version was widely used by the Bulgarian Air Force during the siege of Edirne. Later a copy of the plans was sold to Germany and the bomb, codenamed "Chathaldza" ("Чаталджа", after the strategic Turkish town of Çatalca) remained in mass production until the end of World War I.
The weight of the bomb was 6 kilograms (13 lb); on impact it created a crater 4–5 metres (13–16 ft) wide and about 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) deep.
During World War I, the Germans used Zeppelins as bombers since they had the range and capacity to carry a useful bomb load from Germany to England. With advances in aircraft design and equipment, they were joined by larger multi-engined biplane aircraft on both sides for long range strategic bombing especially by night. The majority of bombing was still done by one-engined biplanes with one or two crew-members flying short distances to attack the enemy lines and immediate hinterland.
The world's first four-engined bomber was the Russian Il'ya Muromets created in 1914 and successfully used in World War I.
World War II
During World War II bombers often looked dramatically different from other aircraft. Because of the lack of power in aircraft engines at the time, bombers needed to have multiple engines in order to carry a reasonable load, in turn leading to much larger aircraft.
With engine power as a major limitation, combined with the desire for accuracy and other operational factors, bomber designs tended to be tailored to one particular role. By the start of the war this included
- dive bomber
- light bomber, medium bomber and heavy bomber
- torpedo bomber
- specialized ground attack designs
Bombers are not intended to actively engage in combat with other aircraft. The majority have been relatively large and unmaneuverable – although some smaller designs have been used as the basis for specialist fighters, such as night fighters.
At the start of the Cold War, bombers were the only means to take nuclear weapons to enemy targets, and had the role of deterrence. With the advent of guided air to air missiles, bombers needed to avoid interception. High speed and high altitude flying became a means of evading detection and attack. Designs such as the English Electric Canberra could fly faster or higher than contemporary fighters. When surface to air missiles became capable of hitting high flying aircraft bombers, bombers used flight at low altitude to evade radar detection.
Once "stand off" nuclear weapon designs were developed, bombers did not need to pass over the target at high altitude to make an attack; they could fire and turn away to escape the blast. Nuclear strike aircraft were generally finished in bare metal or anti-flash white to avoid any flash damage.
The development of large strategic bombers stagnated in the later part of the Cold War because of spiraling costs and the development of the Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) – which was felt to have equal deterrent value while being much more difficult to intercept. Because of this, the United States Air Force XB-70 Valkyrie program was cancelled in the early 1960s; the later B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit aircraft entered service only after protracted political and development problems. Their high cost meant that few were built and the 1950s-designed B-52s continued in use into the 21st century. Similarly, the Soviet Union used the intermediate-range Tu-22M 'Backfire'in the 1970s, but their Mach 3 bomber project came to naught. The Mach 2 Tu-160 'Blackjack' was built only in tiny numbers, leaving the 1950s Tupolev Tu-16 and Tu-95 'Bear' heavy bombers to continue being used into the 21st century.
The British strategic bombing force largely came to an end when the V Bomber force was phased out; the last of which left service in 1983. The French Mirage IV bomber version was retired in 1996, although the Mirage 2000N and the Rafale have a taken on this role. The only other nation that fields strategic bombing forces is the People's Republic of China, which has a number of Xian H-6s.
In modern air forces, the distinction between bombers, fighter-bombers, and attack aircraft has become blurred. Many attack aircraft, even ones that look like fighters, are optimized to drop bombs, with very little ability to engage in aerial combat. Indeed, the design qualities that make an effective low-level attack aircraft make for a distinctly inferior air superiority fighter, and vice versa. Conversely, many fighter aircraft, such as the F-16, are often used as 'bomb trucks,' despite being designed for aerial combat. Perhaps the one meaningful distinction at present is the question of range: a bomber is generally a long-range aircraft capable of striking targets deep within enemy territory, whereas fighter bombers and attack aircraft are limited to 'theater' missions in and around the immediate area of battlefield combat. Even that distinction is muddied by the availability of aerial refueling, which greatly increases the potential radius of combat operations.
Plans in the U.S. and Russia for successors to the current strategic bomber force remain only paper projects, and political and funding pressures suggest that they are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. In the U.S., current plans call for the existing USAF bomber fleet to remain in service until the mid-to-late 2020s, with the first possible replacements becoming operational in 2018. After this bomber the U.S. is also thinking of another bomber in 2037. The 2018 bomber will be made in small quantities as it will be a transition aircraft for this 2037 bomber. The 2018 bomber was, however, required to provide an answer to the fifth generation defense systems (such as SA-21 Growlers, bistatic radar and Active Electronically Scanned Array radar). Also, it was chosen to be able to stand strong against rising superpowers (China, India) and other countries with semi-advanced military capability (Iran). Finally, a third reason was long-term air support for areas with a low threat level (Iraq, Afghanistan). The latter was referred to as close air support for the global war on terror (CAS for GWOT). The 2018 bomber would thus be able to stay for extended periods on a same location (called persistence). Also, the 2018 bomber and later bombers could be automated.
- ^ Johnston, Alan (10 May 2011). "Libya 1911: How an Italian pilot began the air war era". BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13294524. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
- ^ "Bulgarian Air Force History 1912-1913(in Bulgarian)". http://aviation.zonebg.com/istoria/balcan-war/index.php. Retrieved 2007-11-25.
- ^ Mark (1995-07). Aerial Interdiction: Air Power and the Land Battle in Three American Wars. pp. 9–10. ISBN 9780788119668. http://books.google.com/books?id=kr2Gc7btCxEC&pg=PA9.
- ^ "USAF may seek supersonic and unmanned capabilities for bomber". http://www.janes.com/news/defence/air/jdw/jdw071018_1_n.shtml. Retrieved 2007-11-25.
- ^ Persistence in 2018 bomber
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