The U.S. Air Force continues work on designs for a stealthy, high-tech, next-generation Long Range Strike-Bomber ready for initial operating capability sometime during the 2020s and able to replace portions of the aging fleet of B-2s and B-52s, service officials confirmed.
The Air Force acquisition strategy for the next generation bomber, for which the service requested approximately $400 million in the President’s FY14 budget, is to achieve a leap-ahead in long-range strike capability, stealth characteristics, communications gear and weaponry, service officials explained.
While much of the program details and its desired capabilities remain secret, there are a few available or known attributes sought after for the system. Extended range to potentially counter Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) challenges, fuel efficiency and an ability to operate in a more challenging or contested electro-magnetic or “jamming” environment are among the key attributes.
The service is hoping for the next generation bomber to be able to fly farther, have more robust abilities against enemy air defenses and carry advanced, next-generation weaponry to improve strike capabilities. An Initial Capabilities Document has been drafted for the LRS-B, the details of which are classified, service officials said.
However, long-range strike capability, which brings the ability to attack or destroy enemy air defenses and ballistic missile launch sites while eluding detection, is considered to be a key element of the Pentagon’s much-discussed Air-Sea Battle operating concept.
The Air Force plans to build 100 LRS-B aircraft, at a per unit price of about $550 million per plane. The LRS-B will be nuclear-capable and potentially have the technological capability to be unmanned, said Ed Gulick, Air Force spokesman.
“The baseline LRS-B aircraft will be delivered with the features and components necessary for the nuclear mission and ensure nuclear certification is complete within two years after Initial Operating Capability,” Gulick said in written responses to Military.com questions.
At the same time, the Air Force is hoping to leverage the best available industry technologies in order to keep costs down. The idea with this approach, naturally, is to avoid the kind of cost and schedule overruns which can accompany these kinds of acquisition efforts.
“The LRS-B program is leveraging mature technologies and existing systems to reduce development risk and minimize concurrency in integration and test. In addition, the Air Force is constraining requirements to enable stable, efficient, and affordable development and production efforts parameters,” Gulick added.