- Next-Generation Bomber
Next-Generation Bomber Boeing/Lockheed Martin contender concept image Role Stealth bomber National origin United States Primary user United States Air Force
The Next-Generation Bomber program (formerly called the 2018 Bomber) is a medium bomber under development by the United States Air Force. It was originally projected to enter service around 2018 as a super stealthy, subsonic, medium range, medium payload "B-3" type system to augment and possibly to a limited degree replace the U.S. Air Force's aging bomber fleet.
On 24 June 2010 Lt. Gen. Philip M. Breedlove said that the term "next-generation bomber" was dead and that the Air Force was working on a long-range strike "family" that would draw on the capabilities of systems like the F-35 and F-22 to help a more affordable and versatile bomber complete its missions. On 13 September 2010 Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said that long range strike would continue cautiously with proven technologies and that the plan to be submitted with the 2012 budget could call for either a missile or an aircraft. The bomber will be nuclear-capable, but will not certified for nuclear use until later.
USAF Air Combat Command in 2004-06 studied alternatives for a new bomber type aircraft to augment the current bomber fleet which now consists of largely 1970s era airframes, with a goal of having a fully operational aircraft on the ramp by 2018. Speculation that the next generation bomber would be hypersonic and unmanned were laid to rest when Air Force Major General Mark T. Matthews, head of ACC Plans and Programs said "Our belief is that the bomber should be manned" at a 1 May 2007 Air Force Association sponsored event. He later cited that the bomber would also likely be subsonic due to the higher cost of development and maintenance of a supersonic or hypersonic bomber. The 2018 bomber is expected to serve as a stop-gap until the more advanced "2037 Bomber" enters service.
USAF officials expect the new bomber to have top end low observability characteristics with the ability to loiter for hours over the battlefield area and respond to threats as they appear. Major General David E. Clary, ACC vice-commander, summed it up by saying the new bomber will be expected to "penetrate and persist". Deployment of cruise missiles is another issue for the new bomber. The B-52 is the only aircraft currently in the Air Force inventory allowed under treaty to carry and fire the cruise missiles. Major consideration was paid to operation readiness and flexibility. In 2006, the program expected that a prototype could be flying as early as 2009. In September 2007, Air Force generals stated that even though the development schedule for the bomber is short, it could be fielded by 2018.
On 25 January 2008, Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced an agreement to embark on a joint effort to develop a new U.S. Air Force strategic bomber, with plans for the new airplane to be in service by 2018. This collaborative effort for a long-range strike program will include work in advanced sensors and future electronic warfare solutions, including advancements in network-enabled battle management, command and control, and virtual warfare simulation and experimentation. Under the Boeing-Lockheed arrangement, Boeing, the No. 2 Pentagon supplier, would be the primary contractor with about 60% of the deal, said sources familiar with the companies' plans. Lockheed, the world's largest defense contractor, would have around 40%. However on 1 March 2010 Boeing said that the joint project had been suspended. Northrop Grumman received $2 billion in funding in 2008 for "restricted programs" – also called black programs – for a demonstrator which could fly in 2010.
The Air Force was expected to announce late in 2009 its precise requirements for a new bomber that would be operating by 2018. In May 2009 testimony before Congress, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates mentioned that the Pentagon is considering a pilotless aircraft for the next-generation bomber role. Then in April 2009, Defense Secretary Gates announced a delay in the new generation bomber project that would push it past the 2018 date. This was caused not only by budget considerations, but also by nuclear arms treaty considerations.
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 QDR. In June 2009, the two teams working on NGB proposals were told to "close up shop".
On 16 September 2009, Defense Secretary Gates endorsed the concept of a new bomber but insisted that it must be affordable. He said, "I am committed to seeing that the United States has an airborne long-range strike capability – one of several areas being examined in the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review. 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 – that less than one-sixth of the planned fleet of 132 was ever built." On 5 October 2009, Ashton Carter said that the DoD was still deciding if the Air Force really needed a new bomber and that if the program was approved the aircraft would need to handle reconnaissance as well as strike. And in July 2010 he said he intended to “make affordability a requirement" for the next-generation intelligence and strike platform.
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 most likely include funding for the future bomber. The Air Force plans for the new bomber to be multi-role with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
Andrew Krepinevich has questioned the reliance on a short range aircraft like the F-35 to 'manage' China in a future conflict and has called on reducing the F-35 buy in favor of a longer range platform like the Next-Generation Bomber, but then-United States Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne rejected this plan of action back in 2007.
On 6 January 2011, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a speech on the U.S. defense budget for FY 2012, announcing major investment to be made in developing a long-range, nuclear-capable penetrating bomber, optionally being 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". In July 2011, Joint Chief vice chairman James Cartwright called for a large UAV instead of a manned bomber, to conduct even the nuclear mission. Retired Air Force Colonel and CSBA analyst Mark Gunzinger has called for an optionally-manned bomber to be developed, stating purely-unmanned bombers to be at a disadvantage without direct human pilot awareness and vulnerable to communication disruption.
As of March 2011, the Air Force intended to purchase from 80 to 100 of the aircraft. Global Strike Command has indicated that one requirement upon the bomber is to carry a weapon of similar effect to the existing Massive Ordnance Penetrator. In addition to the strategic bombing, tactical bombing, and prompt global strike roles typical for a long-range bomber, the new aircraft will be a part of a family of systems to be responsible for ground surveillance and electronic attack. 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 which would include modular payload options for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), electronic attack (EA), and communications. The bomber is to be nuclear capable, but will not be certified for the role until the current bomber force is due for retirement.
In 2011 the House Armed Services Committee added language that would require two engine programs for the bomber, but Ashton Carter objected that this would interfere with plans to reuse an existing engine. 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. In May 2011 Air Force undersecretary Erin Conaton announced that a program office was being set up for the bomber. In July 2011, an Air Force spokesman stated a program office has yet to be established.
The design goals in January 2011 were:
- Total program cost estimated at $40 to $50 billion
- Fleet size of 175 aircraft, 120 for 10 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.
- Related development
- Lockheed Martin FB-22
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Related lists
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United States tri-service bomber designations post-1962
B-1 • B-2
See also: FB-22 • Next-Generation Bomber • 2037 Bomber Lists relating to aviation General Military Accidents/incidents Records
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