|Boeing/Lockheed Martin "2018 Bomber" concept image|
|National origin||United States|
|Primary user||United States Air Force|
|Number built||100 planned|
no more than $550 million
The Next-Generation Bomber program (NGB; formerly called the 2018 Bomber) is a program to develop a new medium bomber for the United States Air Force that was then superseded by the "Long-Range Strike-B" (LRS-B) heavy bomber program. The NGB was originally projected to enter service around 2018 as a 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, Lieutenant General 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 not certified for nuclear use until a later time.
On 24 February 2012, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley announced that a competition was under way with a target delivery in the mid-2020s.
The sinking of ex-USS Schenectady as a test during Operation Resultant Fury in 2004 demonstrated that heavy bombers could successfully engage naval targets on their own. This led to the requirement for a new bomber that could survive against modern defenses. In 2004–06 the USAF Air Combat Command 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. Some speculation suggested that the next generation bomber might be hypersonic and unmanned. However, these were put to rest when U.S. Air Force Major General Mark T. Matthews, head of ACC Plans and Programs stated that available technology indicates a manned subsonic bomber at a May 2007 Air Force Association sponsored event. He later stated that a manned subsonic bomber provides the "best value" to meet the required range and payload performance by 2018. The 2018 bomber was expected to serve as a stop-gap until the more advanced "2037 Bomber" entered service.
The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) directed the Air Force to develop a new long-range precision strike capability by 2018. Since then, the Air Force and Strategic Command have decided that the best initial option is to pursue a manned bomber to be designated B-3.
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 be armed with nuclear 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 it 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 their joint arrangement, Boeing, the No. 2 Pentagon supplier, would be the primary contractor with about a 60% share, and Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defense contractor, would have around a 40% share, according to sources familiar with the companies' plans. Northrop Grumman, another major defense contractor, received $2 billion in funding in 2008 for "restricted programs" – also called black programs – for a demonstrator that could fly in 2010. On 1 March 2010, Boeing said that the joint project with Lockheed Martin had been suspended.
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, which announced major investment in developing a long-range, nuclear-capable bomber, also to be optionally 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 aircraft, including for the nuclear mission. Retired Air Force colonel and Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments analyst Mark Gunzinger has called for an optionally manned bomber, stating that purely unmanned bombers would be at a disadvantage without direct human pilot awareness and vulnerable to communication disruption.
In March 2011, the Air Force intended to purchase from 80 to 100 of the aircraft. The 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 aircraft is to be 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 is to include modular payload options for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), electronic attack (EA), and communications. The bomber is to be nuclear capable, but shall not be certified for the role until older bombers are set to retire.
In 2011, the House Armed Services Committee added language that would require two engine programs for the bomber; Ashton Carter objected that the addition would interfere with plans to reuse an existing engine. Reportedly, 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.
The USAF asked for $292 million for the program in its 2013 budget request. The program has also been referred to as "Long-Range Strike-B" (LRS-B). In 2012, former Pentagon weapons tester Thomas P. Christie speculated that the bomber program had been initiated so that the Air Force would have a sacrificial program to offer during anticipated defense budget shortfalls. The USAF seems committed to the program, given a lack of other non-nuclear options to deal with "deeply buried and/or hardened targets," and committed two percent of their investment budget to the project, compared to three percent to sustain existing bombers.
As of August 2013, the Air Force believes that the LRS-B can reach Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in 2025. Reportedly, the main risk to the program is funding, particularly in light of the F-35 Lightning II's acquisition difficulties and the lack of an "urgent threat". Prior bomber programs have been hindered due to lack of financing, as only 21 B-2 Spirits were produced out of 132 planned and fewer B-1 Lancers were built than were envisioned; both programs were scaled down due to spiraling per-aircraft costs. Research funding has been allocated, as stealthy technologies to counter anti-access/area-denial threats were spared from budget cuts. The Air Force has said the LRS-B is a top priority as it is believed that China will overcome the B-2's low-observable features by the 2020s. Where possible, the use of existing technologies and proven subsystems will be undertaken in order to keep the program within budget, instead of developing new and riskier ones. Components such as engines and radars may be off-the-shelf or adaptions of existing models; derivative technologies of the F-35 may also be adopted. The LRS-B is intended to perform any long range mission, rather than have any one specialized mission, which drove up the cost of the B-2. The Air Force expects the plane to cost $1 billion each with development costs factored in, and aims for a per-aircraft cost of $550 million, which is considered reasonable for a limited production run military aircraft.
On 25 October 2013, Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced they would be teaming up for the Long Range Strike Bomber program. Boeing will be the prime contractor. The two companies previous joined together for the program in 2008, but the partnership ended in 2010 when requirements shifted. Boeing believes that because the program had evolved since then, they can readdress their partnership to specifically address Air Force requirements. The team has an edge with Boeing's bomber experience and Lockheed's stealth experience. However, Northrop Grumman has the most recent experience with the stealthy B-2. The two companies together bring strong competition, and some believe that they joined to defeat a common business enemy. At the time of the announcement, the only official details about the LRS-B were that it will likely be optionally manned and use stealth technology. Although Northrop Grumman has not officially announced that it will compete for the LRS-B contract, on 30 January 2014 they revealed they intend to spend money on developing new technology that the bomber would need which could include stealth designs, mission management systems, and autonomous controls.
In January 2014, former Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz said that the Pentagon should abandon plans to outfit the F-35 with nuclear weapons and give the role to the LRS-B. A 2010 Nuclear Posture Review stated that replacement of the F-16 with the F-35 would retain dual conventional and nuclear delivery capabilities for Air Force fighters. The Congressional Budget Office has determined that upgrading the F-35 for nuclear deployment capabilities would cost $350 million over the next decade. Schwartz said that without financial support from NATO, where some nuclear-capable Lightnings would be deployed, those funds should be transferred to the LRS-B effort. This occurred at the same time that Congress cut funding for the B61 nuclear bomb, stripping $10 million from F-35 integration and $34.8 million for service life extension. Schwartz believes that life extension for the B61 must continue but that the weapon should be deployed from the LRS-B instead of the F-35.
On 20 February 2014 the US Air Force reasserted the need of the bomber at the annual Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla. It was stated the bomber will be fielded in the mid-2020s, and the service will procure between 80 and 100 of the bombers. Lt. Gen. Burton Field clarified the 80 to 100 range is due to uncertainty over the price rather than a figure representing the minimum number of bombers needed to mitigate risk. Some Air Force leaders expect the unit cost limit of $550 million per aircraft will be exceeded with additional equipment added to the airframe. The cost goal is to set design constraints to prevent extra requirements for capability growth desires and untested technologies that would increase the price more from being incorporated in the development process. Though the final cost may be greater than planned, having a fixed price objective is expected to keep average procurement costs for production aircraft affordable. Rather than the price ceiling being too low to meet requirements, the Air Force sees it as them and the potential contractor being disciplined about the bomber's missions and roles. Research and development expenses are likely to be "significant," but not expected to be double the cost of production aircraft.
The Air Force intends to release a full request for proposals (RFP), a final RFP, and begin the competition for the Long-Range Strike Bomber in fall 2014. Two teams are working on pre-proposals in preparation for the competition, believed to be Northrop Grumman and a team between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. More details about the mostly classified bomber program are to be revealed in budgets in March 2014.
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.
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
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