A DOD sponsored study of options to modernize the U.S. Air Force's long-range strike capabilities is set to begin next month, (October 2005).
This analysis of alternatives which is expected to last one year will explore the various concepts presented by defense contractors vying for the
long range strike project due to be deployed by 2018
Although there have been various threads touching on one or two of these concepts, perhaps a review of all the concepts presented openly
the major contractors could be informative. In fact, over the summer (2005), the Air Force has reviewed more than 20 specific proposals submitted by
the defense industry for new long-range strike capabilities.
After veiwing these "long range strike" options it would be interesting to hear from ATS members as to which concept they favor best and why.
Boeing’s response to the Air Force includes an array of potential solutions for Global Strike-Global Persistent Attack capability. Concepts ranged
from a re-engined and upgraded B-1R bomber, a Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems X-45D, and a Blended Wing Body Arsenal Aircraft.
the B-1R (R stands for “regional”) would be a Lancer with advanced radars, air-to-air missiles, and F/A-22 engines. Its new top speed—Mach
2.2—would be purchased at the price of a 20 percent reduction of the B-1B’s combat range.
The upside of this concept is that it's an affordable option, the downside is that the range is reduced instead of enhanced, plus the B-1's stealth
capability is nowhere near what the USAF brass would like to see on a future bomber.
Blended Wing Arsenal Aircraft Concept
Another option offered by Boeing is the Arsenal Aircraft. It could conceivably deploy from the continental U.S., carrying many hundreds of hypersonic
weapons, or cruise missiles -- each plugged into the network-centric architecture and capable of hitting enemy targets from stand-off distances.
Although the Blended Wing Body Arsenal concept meets these requirements, the "ground-up" development it would require make it a very longshot in the
competition of concepts.
Boeing's unmanned offering included a scaled-up “D” variant featuring greater range and payload capability than the “C” version.
So far, Boeing has three X-45C unmanned aircraft under construction at its St. Louis facility, with the first flight scheduled for early 2007. The
X-45A demonstrators that are now flying were the first to drop a smart weapon from an unmanned air vehicle. These are subsonic, very stealthy and risk
no pilots and crew.
It's anybodys guess as to whether the JUCAS derived X-45D actually stands a chance in the competition, my personal opinion is that the USAF wants
this long range strike aircraft to have human eyes onboard. It may be that the LRS concept could be a command and control aircraft similar to an AWACS
and it be able to control UCAVs on their stealthy bombing runs deep into enemy territory, but my money is on a manned aircraft.
Of all the options, the best known seems to be the FB-22. This would be a two-seat, extended-range derivative of Lockheed Martin’s F/A-22
single-seat, short-range Raptor. The Congressional Research Service reported that the FB-22 concept “appears to be the only bomber concept that Air
Force leaders are discussing with any enthusiasm.”
Speaking in February, Gen. John P. Jumper, Air Force Chief of Staff, described the concept thusly:
“The FB-22 would carry some 30-plus Small Diameter Bombs, have a range of about 1,600 miles, and be able to persist behind enemy lines and penetrate
with some element of supercruise—and still [have] some element of maneuverability and the ability to protect itself.”
Also, U.S. Air Force Secretary Roche has said the USAF needs a new, fast, long-range plane, and he has indicated that the FB-22 is a contender. In
April, Roche said that the work done to perfect the F-22, is doubly useful because it's moving the proposed "FB-22" adaptation forward as well.
Gen. John Jumper refers to the FB-22 concept as a "regional" bomber, but the Congressional Research Service contends that a regional bomber may not
meet long-range strike criteria. With a range of 1,600 miles, the FB-22 “appears to be clearly a different class of aircraft than today’s
long-range bombers, which typically exhibit unrefueled combat radii of 3,400 to 4,400 miles.”
So it may very well be that even though the USAF brass seems to favors the FB-22, it may not happen due to it's short range compared to other
Lockheed AC-130J Arsenal Aircraft
According to John Perrigo, Lockheed Martin's senior manager for combat air systems one of the possible systems is an arsenal ship version of a C-130.
Perrigo described the AC-130J arsenal ship as nonstealthy, subsonic and not designed to penetrate enemy air defenses. However, it would be modified
internally to carry 8-12 cruise missiles for standoff attacks.
The restructuring of the airframe would consist of roll-on, roll-off weapon racks and a launch console. Weapons selection is expected to include the
conventional air-launched cruise missile, Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile and Jassm-ER and miniature air-launched decoy missiles fitted with
electronic attack warheads for close-in jamming.
Another weapons payload possibility for the AC-130J option would be an array of directed energy weapons. As John Perrigo puts it, "we fully expect
there's going to be some pretty good energy weapons available by 2015-20."
Lockheed Long Range Strike UCAV Concept
There have been no indicators from the Lockheed camp regarding an LRS UCAV, this is suspiciously unusual. Considering that ATS is a conspiratorial web
site, it would seem that there should be more attention paid to this.
There have been indications that Lockheed will be unveiling a black project UAV in the near future, most hints seem to point toward a large airframe
version of the stealthy DarkStar concept.
Other areas of consideration here would be the morphing UCAV we keep hearing about. One thing is certain, the LRS concept competition is potentially
lucrative and one would think that LockMart would have a UCAV offering since the other players do. Time will tell...
According to the program manager for future strike systems, Charles Boccadoro, Northrop submitted eight concept proposals. One of the proposals is the
B-2 Global Strike Capabilities concept, which basically entails a low-risk block upgrade to the highly successful stealth bomber.
Although neither the USAF nor Northrop have proposed restarting new B-2 production, it has been discussed.
The House version of the Fiscal Year 2002 Defense Authorization Bill reccommened that the USAF buy 40 additional B-2s. The proposal calls for
restarting the Palmdale production line at a cost of $2 to $4 billion and buying a stripped-down version of the $2.2 billion B-2A called the B-2C,
which would cost around $735 million a copy.
The chances of either B-2 concept becoming a reality are slim due to the extreme expense even for the $735 million stripped down B-2C.
This is not just a YF-23 refitted for bombing missions, it is a completely different aircraft, larger than the original Black Widow II, but still
retaining it's stealthiness, supercruise and other characteristics.
The new range figures of the FB-23 as it is being refered to as, are unknown to the general public but it is assumed that Northrop will attempt to
make it a truly long range aircraft in order to undercut the FB-22 option which has been said to be weak on overall range.
Derived from the JUCAS program, the X-47 is Northrop's unmanned offering.
Like the X-45, it's Boeing competitor, the X-47A is a stealth design with no vertical control surfaces, yaw control being achieved by differential
movements of surfaces in the wings. The all-composite airframe is powered by a single turbofan.
This UCAV would have to be redesigned to make room for additional fuel but like the X-45, the basics are in place. Also like the X-45 I do not think
that the USAF is ready to hand over precision long range bombing to an unmanned aircraft. It's coming, there's no question about it, but the USAF
brass is just not ready for that.
So what do you guys think? Which one of these Long-Range Strike concepts do you think should be chosen?
B-3- what do you think/hope it might be?
Raptor as a Bomber
The Skunk Works New Proposal: FB-22 with Active Visual Stealth!
The Future USAF Bomber: Is the Long Range Strike Initiative Here Already In The Form of a
Skunkworks working on ISR/Strike capable UAS
Skunk Works Shapeshifter UAV
Boeing: Offering Unique Solutions for Global Strike Force; Boeing News
Long-Range Strike in a Hurry; Air Force Magazine, Nov 2004
B-2 or not B-2...That is the Question; COuncil for a Liveable World
A Smarter Bomber: Popular
Striking Concepts; Aviation Week & Space Technology, Nov 28,
[edit on 5-10-2005 by intelgurl]