Home » News » Acquisition Reform » Cartwright: Get Rid of the New Bomber

Cartwright: Get Rid of the New Bomber

by John Reed on July 14, 2011

Well, Marine Corps Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, the nation’s second highest military officer fired a shot at the Air Force’s renewed effort to field a stealthy, long-range nuclear bomber early in the next decade, saying we just can’t afford it.

Here’s what he said today to DoDBuzz’s founding editor, Colin Clark, who now runs AOL Defense:

“I’m known as a bomber hater,” a smiling Cartwright said this morning when I asked him whether the country needed such a plane. The general’s main worry is that we will build an “exquisite” aircraft, loaded with the latest stealth, able to fly huge distances and crammed with expensive sensors and end up being able to buy only a few of them. He noted the progression of bomber production numbers: 100s of the venerable B-52; 65 B-1s; and 20 B-2s.

“Building five or 10 of something isn’t going to do something for us,” he said, adding that he wants to think of an aircraft of which we could build “hundreds.”

He went on to tell Clark that he thinks a cheaper, unmanned bomber (that wouldn’t carry nukes, for obvious reasons) is the way to go. He apparently said that he didn’t remember any manned version of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). There you have it, the outgoing vice chairman of the joint chiefs sounding off against building a new version of the Air Force nuke triad. Oh, and he also confirmed that the Pentagon is considering getting rid of an aircraft carrier.

The country, Marine Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright said, cannot afford to buy an upgraded nuclear triad of new bombers, new intercontinental ballistic missiles and new nuclear missile submarines.

Cartwright, outgoing vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, also confirmed that the Pentagon is considering — as part of its budget deliberations – scrapping its next aircraft carrier, the first official confirmation by a senior military official. Cartwright spoke with reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast here.





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{ 99 comments… read them below or add one }

aSDF July 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm

how much will they be cutting (in percent) that they are thinking about the bomber AND cvn cancellation?


blight July 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm

A "Revolt of the [Air Force Generals]" is in store.

Aand we're back to the whole "we don't need stealth bombers, we can use ALCMs" thing of Carter/Reagan.

The future is probably smaller fighter-bombers a la F-111; and not 30-ton carriers. However, you can make a small aircraft very expensive, independent of size…


S O July 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm

65 may be the figure of in-service B-1Bs, but the production run was 100.

A few years ago there was a reduction b about 30 for saving operation & upgrade costs.


icedrake July 15, 2011 at 12:30 am

Doesn't change the overall trend though, does it?


Joshua July 14, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Finally, a sensible remark from someone with power. I’ve always felt that these high tech innovations always end up blowing the wallet up, and never doing much other than raising problems. Look at the F-35′s numerous issues right now… And thousands are “suppose” to be produced. B-2′s are great aircraft and are very useful, but with such a high pricetag and low number, I think it’s time we look to more affordable aircraft that we can produced larger numbers of… Whether manned or unmanned.


Curt July 15, 2011 at 2:51 am

Of course its a vicious circle. B-2s aquisition was largely expensive due to the R&D and development we sank into them (spread across only 21 aircraft). Unit cost of the B-2 when the program was truncated was less than 50% more than a commercial 747-400. The big money is all upfront..


citanon July 15, 2011 at 7:01 am

In Korea and Vietnam American GI's died by the truckload. In Iraq I, II, and Afghanistan they suffered no significant casualties in major combat operations.

The high tech "money wasters" flying over head might just have a little something to do with that… just a guess.

The reality is that we've had it good for so long in this country, that we don't remember what it's to be like when we didn't have our gee-wiz gadgets. The fact is that there are others out there who are more sophisticated than pre-medieval tribes wielding AKs and RPGs. They are actively pursuing all the gee-wiz gadgets we are beginning to spurn, and if the tables are ever turned, we will be in a world of hurt.


blight July 15, 2011 at 10:23 am

In Iraq II and Afghanistan their supply chain did not supply anything like the volumes of manpower or equipment that America encountered in Vietnam or Korea. You suffer casualties in proportion to how much fight your enemy throws down, and on what kind of scale, and with what kind of equipment. A contrast to our experience in Iraq II and Afghanistan would be Israel's raid into Lebanon, on the heels of otherwise successful experience in Gaza. The real difference is that Hezbollah didn't exactly fade into the shadows, but fought with ATGMs, practiced concealment, operated from fortifications, while exploiting the ability to fight in civilian areas. Despite "high tech money wasters" overhead the Israelis did not make good headway.


SJE July 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Exactly. The existence of advanced technology obscures that so much of war is still boots on the ground, good intelligence, and forming alliances.


STemplar July 14, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Seems like we have more luck and better results with our high tech munitions than delivery platforms in regards to costs and schedule. Maybe we should think in terms of OTS delivery options and high end munitions with superior range.


brianckramer July 14, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Pilots will be obsolete by the time these are done…Why waste Billions on another go-nowhere design effort?


Forrest Cantrell July 14, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Penetrating weapons, not penetrating bombers. As for the CVN, we may just have to live with one fewer.


Belesari July 14, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I agree with scraping thidea for now.

But i'd like to see them think about the idea of a Large flying wing that isnt dependent upon stealth and can use EW warfare and eventually Lasers.

Not nessesarily unmanned though. Pilot copilot and EW officer.

Weapons payload atleast equal to the B-2.

And yes build atleast 100 build alot of them. Keep the base airframe cheaper by not requiring super stealth (and also cheaper that way in maintanence cost). Then make it capable of carrying more capable EW and eventually laser or other anti missle systems.

The most successful bomber in our history and one that has performed the best isnt the Billion dollar ones like the B-2 or B-1 or f-117.

Its the B-52. Always ready and reliable.

That is what we should try to build from. Especially sense more and more stealth aircraft are becoming vulnerable as more and more people devise mechanisms to track and destroy them.


Belesari July 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Oh and dont cut the CVN. We need more of them to begin with. Maybe you should think about making them just a little cheaper eh?


SJE July 14, 2011 at 4:41 pm

The general is speaking uncomfortable truths. The Marines have current needs, while the AF is already blowing the budget with their current aquisitions and now want more toys.


J Hughes July 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I really want a new stealthy manned/unmanned nuclear bomber, BUT…. Cartwright does have a point.


J Hughes July 14, 2011 at 5:41 pm

So maybe if we used current off the shelf tech COST it wont turn into another F-35.


chaos0xomega July 14, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I agree with Cartwright, but calling out the Air Force is a low blow, when his beloved corps is fielding (or attempting to field) an ' “exquisite” aircraft, loaded with the latest stealth, able to fly huge distances and crammed with expensive sensors and end up being able to buy only a few of them.' Not to mention the whole EFV thing which was (thankfully) killed dead.


Belesari July 14, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Huge distances? It has a patheticly tiny range.

450nmi combat range (Which it hasnt met).

But the biggest thing is that the Marines Harriers NEED to be replaced badly. The harrier has alot of faults and they are getting old.

Do i think the F-35B is what they should have gone for? No but its only thing available.


MCQknight July 14, 2011 at 8:47 pm

And the Air Force NEEDS to replace its bombers! The B-52's are already ancient and they're getting more and more expensive to operate the older they get. Anyways, the B-2 would orignally have been bought at a comparable price to the B-1 if we had bought them in quantity, but Congress cut the aircraft to 20 after most of the sunk-cost R&D work had been done so you end up with a 2 billion dollar bomber.

And btw, if Cartwright thinks that UCAVs will be magically cheaper just because they don't have a man in the cockpit, then he'll be sorely disappointed. One only has to look at the huge cost of the new Global Hawks to understand that simply taking the man out of the cockpit does not a cheap aircraft make.


Belesari July 14, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Yes i dont understand why everyone goes "a drone its magicly cheaper!!!"

Yes we need to replace the legacy bombers what we dont need is another bomber that we need 250 of but end up with only 75-80 because they cost to much.

And the airforces new "all stealth all the time with extra stealth nutsacks for our men" slogan doesnt help.


Hunter78 July 14, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Cartwright is completely right. He should be CJCS. Get the f* out of flying coffins. If we can't lead in uav's we're out of business.


SCTA July 14, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Yep, just have all UAVs so the first one to knock down enough of our satellites owns us. i just don't get the whole "go unmanned" thing. It reminds me of the all GPS guidance for every weapon crap. We are so reliant on orbiting hardware, first nation that gets a decent anti-sat capability (can we say China?) will defeat us in detail.


Perry C. Joyce July 14, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Finally someone said what all Americans are thinking. Enough with the high tech toys, they're expensive and often take decades to work out the bugs. What we need are inexpensive, effective weapons systems and weapons delivery systems that our service ppl can rely on to get the job done. New bombers, CV(n)s' etc are a waist of bloody money. Especially now that the U.S. is pushing the debt ceiling. Our military leaders need to cool thy're jets till we get a grip on the national debt.


superraptor July 14, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Let's have an honest strategic debate. There are a lot of things we dont need including tacair bases in Japan, South Korea and Germany. We don't need the LCS debacle. We need Nuclear Deterrence vis a vis a ever more powerful China which is actually building all the things we are not building including ICBMs with 10 MIRVs. This means building new nuclear warheads for the US and new ICBMs as we have a rather geriatric arsenal. We need standoff weapons which could be hypersonic cruise missiles loaded into arsenal aircraft such as converted B-787s or 747-8s (see P-8 conversion of B-737). Do we really need a deep penetrating bomber which can fly into central Mongolia undetected? Maybe not. But maybe we need a new version of a hypersonic long range SR71. And we need air superiority which means we need something other than the F-35.
Maybe we can do with 9 supercarriers if we commit to increase our subforce.
We could have a more powerful miltary for less money. But an honest debate will not be allowed by our great leaders as it collides with their agenda ( for example dsimantling unilaterally our nuclear arsenal)


@Earlydawn July 14, 2011 at 9:16 pm

I love the logic on these boards. "We can't afford gold-plated technology anymore! Let's buy some flying robotic bombers, instead!"

Predators / Reapers are only cheap because they're the airframe and engine equivalent of a tuned-up Cessna. See Global Hawk..


Belesari July 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Unfortunaty that seems to be everywhere.


blight July 14, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Yup. R&D is R&D. The Pred and the Reaper are the equivalents of Cessnas with teeth. Building a fighter jet will be expensive, whether or not it is manned.


William C. July 14, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Well this time lets just not cut the damned production run as politicians are prone to doing.


blight July 14, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Easier said than done. One minute, an aircraft costs 50 mil. The next, 100 mil/each. Then it goes up, and up and up…


John B July 14, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Sell the flat-top to the Chinese. they would love it and will get it one way with our debts, or another, like espionage. If we did not outsource our jobs and know how to these third world countries, our bloods will not be spilled, and we will not have to worry about them now then.


Billy July 14, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Should have never went with the F35. Should have just designed a new F15 thats supermanuervable with Thrust Vectoring. Sometimes lowtech is better than super hightech products.


Byron Skinner July 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Good Evening Folks,

General Cartwright makes sense. The era of manned combat aircraft is coming to an end, if it already hasn’t ended. Cutting a CVN makes sense only if the nuclear industrial base can be maintained, but that could be done by adding an nuclear platform.

Next legacy platform to get rid of the F-22. There is a lot of speculation going on regarding the problems with the F-22 and most of them have nothing to do with the O2 generator. The “almost crash on Hampton VA.” woke up some AF people. Word is that F-22 flight and ground crews are putting in requests for a transfer into another communities. Since web sites are disappearing and some folks have gone silent it appears that scrapping the F-22 is under full consideration. The lesson here is you can’t take 30 years to make a cutting edge weapon, when its ready it already obsolete.

Byron Skinner


J Hughes July 15, 2011 at 2:58 am

How come you always start off with good evening, are you a nightly news journalist? lol And what does allons mean?


blight July 15, 2011 at 7:39 am

Allons is French, for "let's go". More literally, it's "we are going", but you get the idea.

Jesus, offering a polite greeting before launching into a post is bad?


Guest July 15, 2011 at 3:56 pm

It'd be great to have a source for that claim…


Joe July 14, 2011 at 11:06 pm

I think we should have gone with more B-24s than B-17's…Oh Crap, am I ever 60 years to late! Pretty much like the next super duper steathy whatchamagiggy the Air Force wants to develope…it will be still working out the bugs and outdated when needed.


Jeff July 14, 2011 at 11:38 pm


What we are seeing here, unfortunately but not unexpectedly, is the services circling the wagons trying to protect their share of a budget pie that is rapidly shrinking. In this context Gen. Cartwrights comments are not unexpected. What is unfortunate about this situation is that over the last decade the upper levels of the DOD has been purged of Air Force officers, preventing the nation’s airpower needs from being effectively articulated. This is readily apparent in the General’s comments. While we cannot repeat the acquisition mistakes of the past, maintaining the ability to preserve strategic options by the ability to penetrate heavily defended airspace and hold an adversary’s critical assets at risk is a fundamental national requirement. We cannot rely solely on networked (unmanned) aircraft as any adversary that would require the use of an aircraft like this can also contest our use of the electromagnetic spectrum. In reality these comments are more about taking money and political clout from another service more than any realistic assessment of our nation’s defense needs.


icedrake July 15, 2011 at 12:42 am

Let me guess: Your solution would be to direct more funding to AF programs, at the expense of the other branches?


citanon July 15, 2011 at 7:10 am

The truth is it is always a tradeoff between services. Currently ground vehicles are actually have the largest proportion of defense acquisitions, not aircraft, but if you examine future threats, one has to wonder if the current investment in new ground vehicles is wise. It's time to think about re-balancing the budget towards long range strike.


blight July 15, 2011 at 10:08 am

We spent the '90s investing in our air force to the expense of the ground services ("Clinton years"). M8 AGS, Wireless TOW and ground Hellfire died, and things like the F-22 and JSF shrank but weren't /killed/.

Then post-Iraq was the ascendancy of the ground services. If the AF couldn't deliver interesting toys (recall they were focused on NMD, F-22, JSF and ABL at the time), then that's on them.

However, we're hindered by arms control treaties which stymie us in IRBMs, conventional ICBMs (and things sharing launch profiles similar to them which we think may cause false alarms in Moscow), and in the long run our investments in PGS may cause the Soviets to wail that they are just surrogate platforms to get around arms control treaties.

Or they will argue that due to long range, they are "strategic" weapons just like conventional ICBM, and they will be right in that a conventional ICBM or a conventional PGS is halfway to a nuclear weapons delivery system.

We ended the Cold War with treaties enabling us to step back from nuclear hell, but those treaties place some limitations, or open cans of worms for our weapons systems. But throwing those treaties away is opening Pandora's Box.


Max July 15, 2011 at 1:08 am

I don't completely agree with the General for the simple fact that as the platforms become more technologically advanced, you really don't need to build hundreds when 10 or 20 will suffice. A case in point is the SR-71 platform, we only built about 50 airframes, and they performed rather well.


USA July 15, 2011 at 9:01 am

Speaking of SR-71 – could the SR-71 be converted to a bomber?


blight July 15, 2011 at 10:02 am

She's dead Jim. Please don't resurrect the dead SR-71.

The answer is yes, but the payload would be limited. The A-12 was originally designed to fire air to air missiles, and seemed to do so without problems. However, testing did not go far. From a cost-effective standpoint, the SR- was an expensive weapons platform, built pretty much around going fast moreso than being a truck.

And nowadays, modern air defenses can track high speed targets such that a SR- wouldn't be as "invulnerable" as it was during the Cold War.


PMI July 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm

The A-12 was the original CIA recon bird. You are thinking of the YF-12.


blight July 15, 2011 at 12:15 pm

You are correct. A-12 being precursor to the SR-71 as well.

Armed with AIM-47, precusors to the Phoenix.

Robert A. Fritts July 16, 2011 at 11:41 pm

If you do your home work you will find the 1st CIA derived project became the A-5 and RA-5C. An amazing aircraft. We put it on carriers and it was just too large. I think VFP-7(?) was the last operator. Look at the Air intakes, wing shoulder structure, except for missing twin vertical stabilizers it is the model for all of the follow on US and USSR fighters. Funny was we made it into a bomber with a rotary bomb bay for nuke mines and bombs. Finally they stripped it and made a recon bird, the mission it was originally designed for.


blight July 18, 2011 at 2:17 pm
TMB July 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Max, the problem with only building 20 of something is that you'll never have all 20 ready to use at the same time. For our older airframes, the readiness rate is rarely above 60-70%. For high tech brand new systems with teething problems, the rate will be as low as systems falling apart with age. (The DoD cheered when the V-22 got UP to 70%. For the B-2, they only built 20 and one of them crashed a couple years back. There will never be a replacement.


SMSgt Mac July 16, 2011 at 9:48 pm

They built 21 B-2s. AV-1 was going to be a dedicated flight test mule with the remaining 20 kept in combat capable configurations, and 16 of those were to be PAA (combat-coded). This would allow 4 at any time to be in heavy depot maintenance, mod/upgrade, etc. Congress authorized constructing more B-2s, but Little Billy Clinton used the money to upgrade AV-1 to Block 30 configuration instead of starting the production line. There are now 20, and still 16 PAA combat coded. The B-2 has a SIOP mission and thus a subset are set aside from use in conventional conflicts. Sleep well.


Dfens July 15, 2011 at 6:56 am

This is nothing but a boondoggle. If they want more B-2's, they should have bought more B-2's. Instead they pull this crap where they only buy 20 and a few years after the line is cold come to us and say, "we need a new bomber just like the last one we built 20 of?" What total bs!


blight July 15, 2011 at 7:26 am

Yup. They should've handed the contract to Lockheed, who already had proven stealth aircraft experience. But nooo, they had to alternate contracts with Northrop to keep them happy. Oh well.


Dfens July 15, 2011 at 2:05 pm

They wouldn't have got the flying wing if Lockheed had built them, not that the flying wing is the greatest shape for a stealth bomber, but at least it's something different. As it was, Northrop had such a difficult time pulling off such a large aircraft that Boeing largly took over as the prime and many parts of that bomber were made in Boeing's Auburn facility just South of Seattle. Maybe Lockheed will propose one of these for this competition: http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/planes/csa/c… . A joined wing would be novel and would generate a lot less boundary layer (and subsequent parasitic drag) than a flying wing. By the way, I happen to know that joined wing in the picture was never submitted as a CSA candidate layout. They did have one stupid configuration that had the engines mounted directly behind the wings, though. That got a laugh or two.


Dude July 21, 2011 at 11:51 am

Original order for the B-2 was around 120. It was reduced to 20 during flight test.


darksidius July 15, 2011 at 8:55 am

This general is completely mad you cant absolutly not defeat a defense like China with a little bomber type uav. J-20 and another fighter close the sky of China and missile like s 400 can easily defeat a drone style bomber. To defeat the defense like Russia or China you must go higher and faster with a medium type bomber with supersonic stealth attribute. Air force general don't here this guy and continue with your program because its the security of the world in this game.


Dfens July 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Hell yeah, get rid of the fragile and expensive stealth coatings and build something to cruise in at Mach 3+ and 100,000 ft. It would be wasting their sorry asses before they knew what hit them. Better make it a heavy bomber, though, 'cause it's going to need to carry a lot of fuel to get a decent load of nukes anywhere they'd do some good.


Maxtrue July 15, 2011 at 9:16 am

I think the issue here is far more complicated. First, the size of any new bomber depends on what it carries. Hypersonic EPW missiles, DEW pods etc are going to be large and heavy. Second, the range, speed, ceiling height and stealth depends of our adversary's defenses. Third, it is clear that drones cannot do what manned air craft can do in certain areas that are important. To answer the question about whether we need a new bomber, we have to answer these questions first.

Advances fighters and air defenses make stealth, speed, ceiling height, range important. It might be sensible to build some White Knights that could loft hypersonics to near suborbital range. It might be sensible to build a loitering bomber that deliver DEW. It might be sensible to build a stealth fast bomber that can penetrate hostile environment in the heat of battle. I would argue the weapons and strategy play a huge role in deciding the number, design and quantity of new bombers.

Last, one builds from the materials available. What exactly do we have that is new we can work with? And what exactly will the bombers face in terms of counter weapon systems?

Therefore, this debate seems to rest on largely unvetted assumptions.


blight July 15, 2011 at 10:34 am

It's not unvetted as so much as we have yet to really digest the implications of future technology. We're basically where Guderian, Fuller and Hart, et al were at in the '20s. Where do we take tanks?

You're probably right in that it would be best to wait and see where the technology goes before building bombers that later on are totally inappropriate for the equipment at hand.


Maxtrue July 15, 2011 at 11:32 am

First, here is more from the general: http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_gene

I think many ideas have been kicked around here and we can come to some conclusions:

1. DEW is the best strategy against proliferating missiles and air borne threats.
2. energy production is becoming a real limiter to fielding technology we have.
3. Hypersonic missiles and advanced EPW are critical confronting emerging threats.
3. Ballistic missile trajectory for Global Strike and EPW are not likely to considered.
4. Getting these advanced missiles to their firing locations requires new air craft.
5. Manned air craft will play a critical role for the next two decades.
6. Metamaterials, stealth technology, scram hybrids, DEW turrets, mini-reactors
are all areas we are presently exploring.
7. Advanced missiles and air craft being envisioned today by China and others requires dealing with range, stealth, weapon loads and electronics in creating new air craft.

So I think assessments of what we think adversaries will have and the strategy to continue superiority is more critical than the present holes in technology to deliver a finish product tomorrow. I am not sure the present leadership here wants DEW or hypersonic "spears" falling from White Knights.

Each item on the cutting block needs to be first positioned in a strategic context that allows Americans to understand the world that is unfolding. As many experts point out, the only thing that will maintain our leadership beyond the spread of democracy is our superior products and the workers/ assembly lines that build them.


blight July 15, 2011 at 11:48 am

The interesting note is the hypothetical going back to the C4-sized Trident. It's not a terrible idea, and still provides some deterrence until our fiscals get back into order and new SSBNs can be built for the longer-range missile.

We /could/ cut into the new carrier builds, or stick with the transitional Nimitz design which is bought and paid for. However, even scrapping a giant CVN is bound to be expensive, so when Enterprise is finally retired even that will cost a pretty penny.


Maxtrue July 16, 2011 at 9:35 am

At this rate we'll sell it to China….one China business man wants to buy the Royal Ark.

Perhaps DT could explore the new class of Russian Ballistic missiles and the stealth maneuverability component of warheads. I think they are anticipating what this administration wants to cut. Axe mentioned that there are more secret projects we have than the few he posted at Wired in a Gallery. Again, I think strategy is not getting to the public which leaves them confused about the direction. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/07/secret-sp

I don't think these can penetrate Fordo, but I see the use of bombers as a platform. And of course there was the suggest to convert B-1 as a DEW platforms. One more time: it depends on our strategy and what we plan to deliver past what defenses. At least, that's my take as an amateur reader…..

brian July 15, 2011 at 10:20 am

So what happens when we need to do heavy deep strikes into a heavily defended airspace? Send in the whole air force? What happens if we no longer have such a capability to act as a deterrent or at least leverage in negotiations? If you don't think the B2 doesn't enter into hostile countries minds when thinking about confronting us, your mistaken. Its like saying we shouldn't have carriers because we don't use them that much. We don't use that much because everyone is scared of them.

I think the general isn't thinking clearly on these matters and the whole thing has become political as opposed to objective decision based on security goals. Our carrier force can't take another loss, we have already pared as many carriers down as we possibly could without significantly compromising security and capability.

I think this is just BS


SJE July 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm

We have CURRENT needs elsewhere in the military. A fleet of ships that are not operational, copters and vehicles being worn out in the desert, etc. Lets focus on actual needs, instead of some hypothetical.

Besides, WHAT nations would be attacking with a "deep strike" despite heavy air defenses? The only ones with the most serious air defenses are North Korea, China and Russia. Its pretty safe to say that any "deep strike" on those would be more than just a single sortie. Iran and Pakistan is the other likely adversary with significant air defenses, but these are more likely to be overwhelmed by current US technology.


Sanem July 15, 2011 at 11:09 am

the predominance of UAVs will only get worse, be it because of cost ($10 million vs $100 million), performance (20 hours vs 4 hours on station) or technology (humans don't get much smarter with every generation, computers do)

the F-35 is the prime example: it's computers can detect, identify, track and target multiple targets optically

imagine what UCAV's will be capable of in 10 years, or even 20. this is the way to go; if we don't the Chinese certainly will, and they will sell to countries like Iran


Maxtrue July 15, 2011 at 11:44 am

China is nowhere near our capability. There are also some missions only manned air craft can accomplish for some time to come. I also don't think the world is ready for autonomous air craft bombing even more people. Right now we're far more worried about future air craft, missile and sub sales to Pakistan and others from China.

Musk prepares to launch Falcon 9 and Rutan is readying the White Knight 2. I think there are many options here and it would be smart to clarify the emerging threats and explore the technical means. You aren't going to hit Iran with drones only.

The EU is presently build a hypersonic platform that looks oddly like our original space plane. Given limited resources we have to pick our hardware carefully, but I wouldn't think putting all our eggs in the Drone Basket is the best way to go nor do I think future weapon systems can be carried or operated robotically anytime soon given the software, technical and legal challenges to flying terminators….

They are a critical part of our force….


blight July 15, 2011 at 11:55 am

Autonomous attack is essentially what we have with Tomahawk cruise missiles. The world is ready for it, but just doesn't know it.

I wouldn't say that a UAV bomber is ready to pick out targets like tanks amid camouflage and operate in CAS, but they are capable of executing simple missions that involve flying to a point and striking a GPS coordinate. And considering our ac are used in missions like "HVT is in this hut, fly in and destroy it" or "Saddam has a missile battery, take it out" or "drop bombs on this bridge"…


TMB July 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm

I watched a Marine F-18 pilot get embarrassed by a superior when the young captain stood up and said "I don't know why we need to study all this maneuver warfare stuff. All I need to do my job is a 9-line, a grid coordinate, and a time on target." The major then asked him "Then why do I need you? Boeing has a robot that can do that already." The major wasn't trying to humiliate him, but rather get him to think of himself more than just a bus driver for bombs and consider what a human can do that a machine can't.


blight July 16, 2011 at 12:15 am

You're right, but the point still stands. Even Army Air Corps had bomb truck missions: destroy this railway. Hit this bridge. Knock out this ball-bearing factory. For static targets, why send good men to die?

For "complex" targets, orchestrate with manned units. I mean, we've replaced a lot of those types of bombing missions with cruise missiles…all the missions we flew over Vietnam at great losses could have been done today with salvoes of cruise missiles. And tomorrow, we won't use cruise missiles if we can use bombs (unless the target is heavily defended with poor odds of making it back, in which case cruise missiles are cheaper and more are available to be expended than UAVs).

Maxtrue July 15, 2011 at 11:57 am

P.S. If you look at the artist's rendering imagine the engines are scram/ram hybrids, the underbelly skin designed to repel lasers and DEW, a hydrogen powered third engine (not shown) for extending ceiling, and internal mini-reactor or fuel cells that can power DEW, you have a tree-hugging, high altitude stealth bomber that is super fast and able to carry 50,000 lbs. Now try to shrink and build what you need and get it all into that space would be quite a feat. I think however, that is about one to two decades away at best…..

Or it might not be great cost/benefit to put all that in a single new bomber of very limited number….


SJE July 15, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I'm not against new technology and new systems. But there is so much money being thrown at new systems, with little cost control, at the expense of actual needs. When the Defense Contractors and the Pentagon see their new toy budgets being cut, they might start to focus on doing more with less.


bigRick July 15, 2011 at 3:39 pm

oh I get it, let's build another ubber expensive bomber (airplane) and never use it in real combat becasue
!.) it is too expensive to lose one
2.) it doesn't bring any unique capabilities to the battle
3) the air crews have to fly all the fricken way from consus to drop any bombs
4.) the air force doesn't give a shit about troops on the ground-they just want to say "we did our share"
5.) it's a very expensive way to get ordinance on the enemy

does this sound like the F-22 anyone?

the air force shouldn't get another dine until they get they act together


Guest July 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm

the Raptor brings new capabilities to the battle…


Guest July 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm



Lance July 15, 2011 at 3:54 pm

I agree with him. We have enough bombers with long range missiles to nuke Russia or China two times over. We need more F-22 and upgraded F-15s and a new fighter to replace the F-18E for carriers. We dont need UAVs and we need most of the money in the DOD budget to train and maintain our force. Or well be in the Carter era again with the military buying new toys but morale and training gone to new lows.


Tee July 15, 2011 at 9:07 pm

I agree with you Lance. If we were smart we would look into a new small ultra high tech fast little fighter made out of 60-70% composites, that would be cheap enough to build and produce a lot of them. Something that can be carrier capable very fast and rearm and refuel off a 800 meter stretch of highway. So it could be used by both the Navy off carriers and the Marines as Expeditionary aircraft after they hit the beach. Well it's in production and it's called the Gripen NG. Scrape the F-35 program and use the money like this:

Gripen NG is a True 4.5++ Gen fighter not like the Super Hornet at a 4.2 Gen. The Gripen NG can land and refuel & rearm then take off from any 800 meter 2 lane strip of highway. ( Long runways in a shooting war might be hard to find) It Super Cruises at Mach 1.2. Has AESA radar & IRST capabilities. 4 Gripen NG's can be refueled & rearmed by a C-130 or a couple of choppers or a truck, by 6 men in 10 minutes. It's maintenance costs are about 1/2 of what a F-16C costs. It can be carrier capable very quickly ( See Brazil ) and it cost only 60 million each. So

JSF F-35 $380 billion to develop and procure 2,457 aircraft.

3000 Gripen NG X $60 million = $ 180 Billion
800 F-22 Raptors X $120 Million = $ 96 Billion
400 F-15 S/E X $100 million = $ 40 Billion

Total = $316 Billion ( Save 63 Billion )

With 1743 more aircraft ( 800 Free F-22 Raptors & 400 Free F-15 S/E )
And make some of those new Raptors a Stretch version F-22B with a larger internal payload, and a Navy version that's carrier capable.


Guest July 16, 2011 at 11:31 am

God you are hell of a troll


Tee July 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm

No trying to make a point. The JSF is a POS and we need to cancel that program before we waste any more money on it. I use to be a F-35B Fanboy all the way. The more I learned about the F-35, the more I understood the major problems with it. I'm a IT professional and have been for 20+ years. The simplest way I can explain the problems that will be affecting the F-35 is ( Think MS Vista and all the hardware that wouldn't work with it because of the OS being 64 bit). Most of our current weapon systems were built on older tech (circuit boards & OS's etc). Most can be over come but the cost to make them work will become staggering as the are just now finding out. A lot of this is because of the supply chain that must keep stuff active for 10 years or more. 10 years in Electronics is 3 life times in technology advancements.


My2Cents July 16, 2011 at 1:33 am

It’s just budget politics. When a politician is told that they only x% of the budget that they demanded and that they need to propose a budget within those limits, they always say that they are going to have to cut the most unacceptable programs.
For local government it is police and school teachers.
For state governments it is Medicare and highways.
For the Federal government it is Social Security and healthcare. (They are going to throw grandma out into the street!)
Of course everyone in politics knows this game, but if you don’t play it the people on the top assume that they can cut even more because it is not hurting enough.


blight July 16, 2011 at 1:56 am

For fed government, ss/medicare/debt service are the largest line items, and also the fastest growing. From a triage standpoint, they would have to be addressed first, otherwise everything else is simply trying to stop a runaway Toyota. For all sides, it makes good political sense to support the more-likely-to-vote and generally-affluent elderly, who ironically don't need SS all that much.

I wish SS had limits on percent returns, adjusted to inflation. Thus people who were there at the beginning and seemingly put in quite a bit back then would still make a fair amount later on. Baby boomers who retire at ages where previously people died too soon would live too long, and would hit a threshold where benefits would be rapidly garnished, especially if they had lots of assets.

SS may need to be repurposed. It should be intended to ensure that the elderly do not have to eat dog food for dinner, and not be something we take for granted. SS might take the unpleasant step of sourcing elderly persons to food stamp programs to spread the burden, which may make more interesting at state and federal levels in other departments.

With Medicare, the government already does unrealistically low billing per procedure. However, this leads to doctors billing multiple procedures, or doing other shenanigans to maximize collections. There are discussions in the medical profession about how to reform medicare, such as moving away from direct reimbursement of all tests (easily gamed by running excessive tests) and perhaps to a fixed "budget" per patient and incentives based on health outcomes more than tests run on patient. I leave it to the doctors to discuss how to reform Medicare…they are the primary users, and without their support Medicare will keep floundering.


Tim Uk July 16, 2011 at 10:18 am

Use the money to buy more SSBN’s filled to the brim with cruise missiles and a few Ballistics . They are undetectable and deliver the goods in a variety of roles Probably the best bang for buck the US or UK has ever got .


Robert A. Fritts July 16, 2011 at 10:47 pm

He should add the Marine JSF to the scrap heap also. A Marine Airwing with 40-60 A-129 Super Tucanos would be greatly appreciated by Soldiers and Marines alike. Low, slow and accurate. Everything the fast movers of all branches hope they are. You remember those guys on the ground this whole ball of wax is there to support in the first place.


Robert A. Fritts July 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Big Rick you are spot on. Great observation. And to Tom the time to stop these Humongus projects is now, before they get rolling. Here is a news flash, Boeing has not actually started on their new tank, but is already projecting time and cost overruns. Airbus guaranteed their price. Funny how it always works out in the USA.


Robert A. Fritts July 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I meant tanker.


Belesari July 14, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Yes going off Afghanistan. But how does it compare when you put in all the other cost and factor in the other wars all the B-52s have been through (some men are flying the same aircraft there fathers did).


Josh July 15, 2011 at 9:13 am

Look at the percentage of ordanence dropped by the B-1B alone compared to the number of aircraft deployed… look at past wars where heavy bombers were the key to defeating the enemy. Losing this big knockdown punch capability would do nothing but hurt us. We need to have a new heavy bomber… hopefully (unlikely) it's something realistic. Stealthy, fast, but based on proven technology.


Musson July 15, 2011 at 1:16 pm

What war have we fought recently where a B-2 was necessary? You sure don't need them to bomb terrorists in Afghanistan. And, you did not need them in either gulf war.


blight July 15, 2011 at 9:59 am

Stealth is a proven technology, but it's not a robust one. B-2s are sequestered in climate-controlled hangars. Not sure about F-22s, but that's another story.

When in the next war do you think we will need thirty tons of bombs on call? It made sense when bombs were dumb to drop strips of them on the enemy. For the "hard" targets of today, not even strips of bombs are sufficient:and that calls for bunker-busting technology more than trying to drop bombs one on top of the other, even with a 10 meter CEP.

We could conceivably opt for bombing missions designed with a few stealth bombers with enough munitions to engage multiple targets before returning home, or opting for medium bombers and buying enough to strike in multiple areas in parallel.


blight July 15, 2011 at 12:26 pm

JSF will be fixed or not in due course. Besides, if there's a next gen bomber, Lockheed's F-22/JSF woes won't affect Northrop engineers and designers.


anon July 15, 2011 at 12:48 pm

About the only advantage an SR-71 family bomber would have is its altitude and speed. According to Ben Rich, there were actually proposals made to turn the A-12 into a bomber, equiped with a kinetic energy bomb – think "rod from god" at a lower cost (and lower effectiveness).

Supposedly, the Air Force nixed the idea due to the absence of a guidance system for the bomb (which was just a specially shaped 1 tonne lump of steel).


blight July 15, 2011 at 1:06 pm

The idea was probably a little ahead of its time. In Vietnam, it was a big deal when they used laser guidance to nail a bridge…


Dfens July 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Right, Congress decided they only needed 20 of them. Nice revision of history, comrade.


Dfens July 15, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Stealth is plenty robust. It's just the signature reducing coatings that aren't very tough. By far, most of "stealth" is shaping. Coatings only get you a few miles more of not being seen. They aren't worth it. Low supersonic speed will more than make up for coatings without making your airplane light up like a Christmas tree with a small scratch from a grain of sand.


Dfens July 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm

The SR-71 could be vastly improved on now. We have the CFD technology to reshape the intakes so they aren't round and have a stealthier shape to them. Same with the exhausts. Plus we have much better engine technology than the SR-71 had. Bigger is definitely better when it comes to supersonic aircraft, so I'd prefer we make something with a 40,000 lb or more internal carry capacity.


blight July 16, 2011 at 12:23 am

You're essentially describing torpedoes when it comes to suicide boats, but much cheaper. And the solution to those will be to attack from maximum standoff, and use drones to extend situational awareness. Those kinds of things would easily overwhelm a "Littoral Combat Ship", which is more technological bark than firepower bite.

If you move to a air strategy using slower, lower-flying turboprops, the Soviets built ZSUs and Tunguskas and are ready for you. The same basic strategies designed to defend against helicopters will work with some modification against turboprop aircraft. Stinger missiles and 20+mm guns. The American Army would be put in a bind, because all we have are fast-movers that'll zip right past swarms of aircraft and run out of missiles, or Patriots that are becoming optimized against Scud threats rather than aircraft (and even then against fast-movers). The Avenger ADAs are kind of limbo, and are in a vulnerable Humvee chassis. Bradley Linebackers are around too, but they mount short-range Stingers, which can be outranged by many AGMs.

The American Army's air defense is built around Stinger missiles and Patriots, and hoping the air force fends off the enemy. In the old days, Chaparral used Sidewinders. The HAWKs are gone, though I remember they made a ground AMRAAM but didn't find any takers.

With UAVs we're not quite at the point of autonomous targeting. It'll be easier to get them to target static areas, so POL facilities, ammo dumps, air bases, power lines, power plants, bridges. Passing a wave of UAVs targeting infrastructure through a country would be as devastating as a plague of locusts in a field; especially if they can cause multiple seemingly random failure points all over target area.

The only problem with opting for "suicide systems" is that if you try to mass things in the thousands, you have to build them in CONUS and ship them across great distances, then employ them in waves while simultaneously ensuring you can replenish at rates greater than attrition.


Sanem July 16, 2011 at 3:38 am

I had the same idea, but I'd go for Predator/Reaper class UAVs because they can operate at high altitude, avoiding MANPADS and AAA

I'd give them HARM missiles to take out radar stations, AWACS-guided AMRAAMs for air combat, and Sidewinders/Stingers to take out any SAMs launched at them. I'd use stripped down UAVs for this relatively risky task, as they don't actually need many of the advanced and expensive equipment. use high flying, stealthy recon UAVs for visual target confirmation and nearby aircraft for no-lag fire control

combine that with a handful of high capacity UCAV/manned stealth fighters and a big salvo of cruise missiles for the opening blows, and the UAVs will probably succeed with minimal losses

for example in Lybia, there would be no sneeking around tanks when the coalition fighters go to refuel, no hitting rebels because of wrong ID. the UAVs would swarm the area, providing a 24/7 overwatch, giving you time to identify and target any ground units

and best of all it's dirt cheap, you can have easily 10 Reapers for the cost of 1 F-35 (not even counting R&D costs)


blight July 16, 2011 at 12:29 am

For perspective, the J58's on the SR-71 delivered 25 kpound*feet of thrust each. F-22's F119's do >35 kpound*feet each. For perspective.

The straight thrust numbers are interesting on an armchair level, but the SR's numbers come from altitudes the F-22 is not intended to operate at. New engines, or something out of the inventory of ramjets and whatnot the Air Force has lying around…


Sanem July 16, 2011 at 3:44 am

exactly, cooperate with local human assets. they're already working on giving control of a AQ-10 to soldiers on the ground, and AWACS has proven itself capable of controlling UAVs, as could probably any two-seater fighter (my beef with the F-35 and F-22). no lag, and it combines the advantages of UAVs with those of humans (situational awareness)


Dfens July 16, 2011 at 12:02 pm

The altitude isn't so much the issue. You make up for thin air with additional speed that forces more air into the intakes. The main issue is temperature of the compressed air at Mach 3+. We have so many new materials now better able to handle high temperatures, that a new Mach 3+ vehicle should really kick ass.


SJE July 18, 2011 at 5:13 pm

I agree that deterrence is preferable. However, an economically weakened and militarily overstretched nation starts to lose credible deterrence.


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