The Next Generation Bomber: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress
The Next Generation Bomber: Background,
Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress
March 7, 2008
National Defense Fellow
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
The Next Generation Bomber: Background, Oversight
Issues, and Options for Congress
The Air Force is in the initial stages of formalizing a new bomber aircraft
acquisition program. This program, in accordance with Department of Defense
(DOD) and congressional mandates, is to produce a new long-range strike aircraft to
be operational by 2018. Air Force plans for acquiring a new bomber aircraft have
been accelerated by about 20 years from earlier projections because of a combination
of the Air Force’s desire to retire a portion of its B-52 fleet and DOD’s perception
of a developing “bomber capability gap.” Defense analysts have estimated that it will
cost between $8 billion and $10 billion to develop a new bomber using current or
The Air Force expects the 2018 bomber to serve as an “interim fix” to bridge
a bomber capability gap, allow it to retire a portion of the current bomber fleet, and
position itself for development of a follow-on bomber with more advanced
technologies such as hypersonic (faster than Mach 5) drive engines. While the Air
Force has yet to release a formal bomber Request for Proposal, defense and industry
experts expect the 2018 bomber program to call for the acquisition of around 100
stealthy bomber aircraft capable of high-subsonic flight and delivery of both nuclear
and conventional munitions. It remains to be seen if a portion of the “next
generation” 2018 bomber fleet will be designed to be unmanned. Both congressional
and DOD mandates, however, point in the direction of at least a portion of the
planned new fleet being unmanned.
The Air Force has not finalized the requirements for the 2018 bomber and has
called for a “fly-off” between potential aircraft in the 2010 timeframe. Boeing and
Lockheed Martin have already teamed up and are working to develop a bomber
design for consideration. Northrop Grumman, the only other potential competitor,
may also join in the competition given its experience with the B-2 and ongoing work
on the Navy’s new unmanned strike aircraft.
The 2018 next generation bomber raises several potential oversight issues for
Congress: balancing capability, affordability, and procurement quantity of a new
bomber; balancing the mix between long- and short-range strike aircraft; monitoring
DOD’s ability to execute an additional large aircraft acquisition program in a highly
fiscally constrained environment; assessing the acceptability of an unmanned B-2
“like” bomber aircraft; ensuring the appropriate overall long-range strike force
structure (specifically, addressing the retirement of a portion of the B-52 fleet); and
assessing the industrial-base implications of delaying the development of a new
For the FY2009 budget deliberations, Congress will be called upon to assess the
Air Force’s decision to delay program funding to FY2010 and whether this will affect
the Air Force’s ability to deliver a new bomber by 2018. This report will be updated
as events warrant.
What Is Long-Range Strike?.....................................2
Defining “Long Range”.........................................2
Current Bomber Fleet...........................................3
DOD’s Next Generation Bomber: Evolution of a Direction.............6
Trends from 1992 to 2007...................................8
Past Congressional Actions......................................9
FY2009 Budget Request.......................................10
Issues for the Air Force............................................11
The Need for a New Bomber by 2018.............................11
The Feasability of a “2018” Bomber..............................12
2018 Bomber Capabilities......................................14
Speed Versus Persistence...................................15
Dual Role: Conventional/Nuclear Capability...................16
2018 Bomber: Interim Fix or Final Solution?.......................17
Issues for Congress...............................................20
Appendix A. Aircraft Classification Definitions and Discussion............23
Appendix B. DOD Bomber Direction, 1992 to 2007.....................25
1992 U.S. Air Force Bomber Roadmap............................25
1993 Bottom-Up Review.......................................25
1994 Nuclear Posture Review...................................26
1995 DOD Heavy Bomber Force Study...........................26
1997 Quadrennial Defense Review...............................27
1999 USAF White Paper on Long-Range Bombers..................28
2001 QDR, 2001 Long-Range Strike White Paper and 2002 NPR.......28
2006 QDR and the 2007 USAF Long-Range Strike White Paper........29
List of Figures
Figure 1. Table from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction
(CJCSI) 4410.01D, Standardized Terminology for Aircraft
Inventory Management, March 23, 2007...........................23
Table 1. Current U.S. Air Force Bomber Fleet...........................4
Table 2. DOD-Recommended Bomber Force Structure Changes, 1992-2007...7
Table 3. Air Force Aircraft Acquisition Programs: Planned Buy vs.
The Next Generation Bomber: Background,
Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress
The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) began laying the groundwork for
the development of a new long-range strike platform to either replace or augment the
current fleet of ~180 long-range heavy bomber assets (B-1s, B-2s, and B-52s). Prior
to the 2006 QDR, the Air Force had indicated that its current bomber fleet would
suffice until 2037, when advanced technologies, such as hypersonic cruise vehicles,
would potentially reach maturity and be incorporated into follow-on bomber aircraft.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), responding to the Air Force’s desire
to retire 38 B-52Hs and concerned about the Air Force’s ability to successfully
execute long-range bombing missions in the future, accelerated Air Force plans for
fielding a new aircraft by almost 20 years, to 2018.
The 2007 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 109-364; 120 Stat 2111
[Sec 131]), acknowledging OSD and Air Force desires to retire a portion of the B-52
fleet, mandated the fielding of a new long-range strike platform by 2018 before
additional reductions to the current B-52 fleet would be allowed. Current Air Force
plans call for fielding a new bomber by 2018, but many outside the Air Force have
noted that current funding and program development appear to be behind schedule
for meeting the 2018 mandate.
There is currently no consensus, within DOD or among military analysts, on the
capabilities needed in a next generation bomber, or even whether an “interim”
bomber is needed. This lack of consensus and direction has caused some to speculate
that the Air Force is not supporting an interim bomber development program because
it might threaten the acquisition of a more advanced system in the late 2030s. In
addition, the Air Force has a host of other acquisition programs that will compete for
limited dollars during the same timeframe.
During its oversight hearings and review of budget requests, Congress will
assess the need for a potential interim long-range strike capability and review what
force structure funding adjustments would be needed to bring the acquisition program
to fruition in the 2018 timeframe.
What Is Long-Range Strike?
DOD is currently analyzing two similar but different concepts to address future
requirements for striking targets at great distances: Prompt Global Strike (PGS) and
Long-Range Strike (LRS). Prompt Global Strike, on the one hand, is U.S. Strategic
Command’s effort to strike any target globally in a matter of minutes or hours.1
There are a number of options currently being analyzed, ranging from long-range
missiles to space-based assets, to meet the response timing goals of Prompt Global
Strike. Long-Range Strike, on the other, is the USAF Air Combat Command’s
current efforts to field an “air breathing” bomber/strike aircraft. In 2006, there was
a push within OSD’s Program Analysis and Evaluation Office to combine the two
efforts, but OSD eventually determined that LRS and PGS analyses would remain
separate with separate sets of requirements. General Moseley, the Air Force Chief
of Staff, noted that long-range strike is about “persistent, survivable, penetrating
capability” with significant weapons loads (bomber-like aircraft), while prompt
global strike could be achieved with very fast “standoff” weapons (missiles).2 This
report focuses only on the potential evolution of a new bomber aircraft to meet
DOD’s goals for Long-Range Strike by 2018.
Defining “Long Range”
There is no consensus definition for the term “long range.” Further, some
studies confuse the terms “range” and “combat radius,” treating them as synonymous.
The following definitions will be used for “range” and “combat radius”3:
!Range: The distance an unrefueled aircraft can fly (or is permitted
to fly) with specified load (a “one-way” flight).
!Radius: The approximate distance an unrefueled aircraft can fly
from base and return without intermediate landing (out and back to
the point of origin).
It should be noted that most studies referenced in this report use the term range to
define what would be more appropriately called combat radius (out-and-back
1 For more on the Prompt Global Strike mission and status, see CRS Report RL33067,
Conventional Warheads for Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues for
Congress, by Amy F. Woolf.
2 Grossman, Elaine M. “Air Chief Resists Combining Future Bomber, Prompt Strike
Studies,” Inside the Air Force, March 24, 2006.
3 Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft, 2007-2008, p. 38.
While a number of studies use various distances to differentiate medium from
long-range, this report uses the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) unrefueled
distance milestones as a delineation of distance categories:4
Medium-Range:Range — 3,000-5,000 Nautical miles (nm)
Radius — 1,500-2,500 Nautical miles (nm)
Long-Range:Range — 5,000 Nautical miles (nm) or more
Radius — 2,500 Nautical miles (nm) or more
There is, however, a drawback to adhering too closely to this yardstick. While
most would agree that B-1s and B-2s are “long-range” platforms, CBO noted in this
study that the B-1B bomber has an “unrefueled, full combat payload” combat radius
of 1,800 nm, while the B-2’s combat radius is 2,000 nm. Using these numbers would
result in both of these aircraft being labeled as “medium range” or “regional”5
bombers. However, the USAF bomber concept of operations assumes aerial
refueling, which moves the bombers back up to long-range. Indeed, with aerial
refueling, the B-2 flew against targets in Serbia, taking off and recovering at
Whiteman AFB in Missouri.
Adding to the difficulty of defining and comparing range/radius values is that
these values are highly dependent on the conditions in which they are measured
(altitude of flight, aircraft configuration, etc.). Aircraft loaded to maximum weight
or having external weapons “hung” on the wings or fuselage will have a shorter
range/radius than a “lighter” aircraft flying in a “clean” configuration (no external
weapons). These caveats need to be taken into consideration when comparing
While aerial refueling gives current and future weapon systems range only
limited by crew endurance, unrefueled range is still an important variable. The real
value in unrefueled range is the bomber’s ability to reach deep into an adversary’s
interior, safely strike high-value targets without the need for support aircraft (such
as tankers and fighters), and return to a base outside the “reach” of the enemy. If
travel distance to the target is not a factor, longer unrefueled range/radius translates
to longer loiter time6 over a target area without the need for aerial refueling support.
Current Bomber Fleet
Currently, the USAF has 181 bomber aircraft in it inventory of B-52Hs, B-1s,
and B-2s. The following table provides more detailed information:
4 U.S. Congressional Budget Office, Alternatives for Long-Range Ground Attack Systems,
by Robie Samanta Roy and David Arthur, March 2006: Summary p. X.
5 The B-58 and FB-111 are examples of medium range/regional bomber aircraft.
6 Maximum loiter time is based on flying at an airspeed and aircraft configuration that will
allow the maximum time over a target area before having to return to base (otherwise known
as maximum endurance).
Table 1. Current U.S. Air Force Bomber Fleet
# Aircraft94 (85 active/9 res)6720
Combat Ready62 (54 active/8 res)5116
Payl oad 70,000 75,000 40,000
Max SpeedMach .86Mach 1.2 (sea level)“High Subsonic”
Fuel Capacity312,000 lb.265,000 lb.167,000 lb.
Sources: Center for Strategic and International Studies Read-Ahead “Long-Range Strike: Options and
Alternatives,” December 12, 2007, Air Force Almanac, May 2007, U.S. Air Force Fact Sheets.
a. Range noted is unrefueled “one-way” distances in Nautical miles.
B-52H Stratofortress. The Boeing B-52 has been the workhorse of the
USAF manned bomber fleet for more than 50 years. On average, the current aircraft
are over 44 years old.7 Initially designed for a Cold War nuclear role, 744 B-52s
have been built and have delivered only conventional weapons in combat. The Air
Force still has 102 B-52Hs; all were built between 1960 and 1962. There are 62 B-
the B-52’s extensive upgrades have allowed it to carry the widest array of
conventional and nuclear munitions. In addition to its varied payload capability, the
B-52 has the longest unrefueled loiter time of all the current bombers.
The B-52 has seen service in almost every military campaign since joining the
active force in 1955. The B-52, however, suffers from a number of age-related issues
that may cause some to question its future viability as an effective and survivable
weapon system. Structurally, the service life of the B-52 was examined and extended
in 2007 from ~32,000 flight hours to a maximum of ~39,000 flight hours.8 This9
service life extension should carry the B-52 at least into the 2030s. However, given
the age of the airframe and disappearance of parts manufacturers for the B-52, spare10
parts availability will need to be addressed and closely managed. In terms of
survivability and effectiveness, past bomber operational concepts have relegated the
7 “Age of the Active Duty Fleet,” Air Force Magazine, May 2007, p. 63.
8 “Long-Range Strike White Paper,” HQ USAF/A5RC, 2007, p. 6.
9 Ibid., p. 6.
10 Axelso, Peter D., Major, “The B-52: Can It Fly Until 2050?” School of Advanced
Airpower Studies, June 2000, p. 14.
B-52 to the role of “standoff”11 weapons carrier and delivery vehicle of massive
firepower in low threat areas. Today, the Air Force’s operational assessment is that
the B-52 will not be survivable under the 2015-2020 threat picture, and therefore its
effectiveness and utility could be limited except in benign threat environments.12
Ongoing modernization of its electronic suites will be essential to keeping the B-52
viable as a standoff weapons delivery vehicle.
B-1B Lancer. The Boeing13 B-1B evolved from numerous bomber studies
conducted in the 1960s for a supersonic replacement for the B-52 and B-58 bombers.
B-1A development ultimately began in June 1970, with design requirements for high
speed, low altitude penetrating capability, high altitude supersonic “dash” (higher
speed for a short distance), and intercontinental range. The Air Force hoped to14
procure a sufficient number to replace the B-52 fleet. Initially, OSD was skeptical
about the B-1 program, given the backdrop of an evolving surface-to-air missile
(SAM) threat and enhancements to the United States’ intercontinental strategic
missile systems as alternatives to manned bombers. In addition, events such as the
shoot-down of a U-2 over Russia and the high development and operational costs of
supersonic aircraft at the time led to the cancellation of the Mach 3 XB-70 bomber
and early retirement of the Mach 2 B-58 mid-range bomber. The Carter
Administration terminated the B-1 program in 1977 in favor of fielding air-launched
cruise missiles on the B-52, but the Reagan Administration resurrected it in 1981 as
part of its defense build-up program. The new program, the B-1B, reached
operational status in October 1986. One hundred B-1Bs were built and delivered to
the Air Force between 1985 and 1988. Today, 67 B-1Bs are still operational.
The B-1B was designed to serve as an effective low altitude supersonic bomber.
The B-1B’s better navigation systems allowing lower altitude flight; its increased
speed (Mach 1+), and a greatly reduced front-aspect radar cross-section compared
with the B-52, made it less vulnerable to attack by missiles and fighter aircraft. With
the fall of the Soviet Union, the Air Force reassessed the strategic bomber force and
decided to focus the B-1B on the conventional weapons delivery role. The Air Force
initiated the Conventional Mission Upgrade Program (CMUP) to improve B-115
lethality and survivability in support of the conventional mission. CMUP provided
the B-1B with systems that would allow the delivery of the latest cluster bombs, Joint
Direct Attack Munitions, and other precision-guided conventional weapons. Today,
the B-1B is actively involved in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq but no longer is
tasked with nuclear weapons delivery.
11 Standoff weapons are weapon systems capable of being launched or dropped from beyond
the threat environment and using their own propulsion systems to carry themselves to the
12 “Long-Range Strike White Paper,” HQ USAF/A5RC, 2007, p. 13.
13 Boeing purchased Rockwell International’s defense and space companies, the original
builder of the B-1B, in December 1996.
14 Telephonic conversation with B-1B System Program Office, Wright-Patterson Air Force
Base, OH, January 10, 2008.
B-2 Spirit. The Northrop Grumman B-2 stealth bomber, born from the High
Altitude Penetrating Bomber and Advanced Technology Bomber programs in the
mid-1970s, reached initial operational capability in April 1997. The first aircraft was
delivered to Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, in December 17, 1993. President
Reagan decided to fund both the B-1 and B-2 programs, initially conceived as a
replacement for the B-52. In 1992, the first Bush Administration reduced the planned
buy from 132 to 75, then 20 aircraft, owing to the high unit cost and fall of the Soviet
Union. Congress added an additional B-2 to the fleet by providing funding to convert
one of the test vehicles into a combat aircraft.
The B-2 retains both a conventional and nuclear bomber mission today. It is the
only bomber aircraft to employ all-aspect “low-observable” or “stealth”
characteristics to enhance its survivability, but its unrefueled range and payload are
more limited than the B-1 or B-52.16 In addition, the aircraft is expensive to operate
because of its radar-absorbing skin and is handicapped by its older computer
architecture. Making the B-2 more survivable goes beyond the materials and
structure of the aircraft. The B-2 must also keep itself away from potential threats
to prevent enemy radars from detecting and targeting the aircraft’s much reduced17
radar cross-section. The B-2’s data processing systems, based on the Intel 286
processor, are limited in their ability to be upgraded to interoperate with other DOD
systems. This limitation makes real-time mission changes more difficult in
comparison to more modern aircraft like the F-22 or F-35. The B-2’s current
processing capabilities also limit the aircraft’s ability to incorporate the latest
enhancements (sensors) that would enhance its survivability.
Some have suggested in the past that the Air Force should “reopen” the B-2 line
to increase B-2 inventory. However, the USAF and OSD have stated that it would
be better to invest in a new system to take advantage of technological18
DOD’s Next Generation Bomber: Evolution of a Direction
For the first time since 1917, with the delivery of the last B-2 in 1997, the
United Stated did not have a long-range bomber either in production or on the
drawing board.19 One defense analyst notes, “That’s a remarkable situation for a
nation whose security relies on its ability to project military power worldwide in
16 However, with air refueling, range is only limited by crew endurance.
17 Low observability, while not making an aircraft truly invisible, reduces the range at which
enemy radars can detect and track stealth aircraft. At some reduced distance, enemy radars
should be able to detect and possibly target stealth aircraft. Therefore, aircraft data
processing systems are needed to recognize threats and aid the pilots in keeping adequate
distance away from enemy radar systems.
18 Skeen, Jim, “Defense Exec Advises Against B-2 Restart,” Los Angeles Daily News,
January 31, 2002.
19 Grant, Rebecca, Return of the Bomber: The Future of Long-Range Strike, Air Force
Association Special Report, February 2007, p. 7.
defense of its interests and allies.”20 While there has not been a replacement next
generation bomber on the “drawing board” for quite a while, there have been
numerous studies conducted on the subject of the future of long-range strike. On
average, one study of long-range strike requirements has appeared each fiscal quarter
since the Cold War ended over 20 years ago.21 The general trend appears to have
been to defer any firm decision in favor of letting potential long-range strike
The 1992 Air Force Bomber Roadmap set the stage for the transformation of the
bomber force from its nuclear-centric role to a key piece of a combatant
commander’s conventional arsenal. This transition began with the merging of
Strategic Air Command (the “bomber” force) with Tactical Air Command (the
“fighter” force) to form Air Combat Command in 1992. For the first time, bombers
and fighters were under one major command. Appendix B steps through the various
“roadmaps,” studies, and defense reviews. Table 2 below summarizes the changes
called for by the Department of Defense since the initial 1992 Bomber Roadmap.
From 1992 to present day, DOD and the Air Force have published five bomber
“roadmaps” or “white papers,” undergone three Quadrennial Defense Reviews in
addition to the 1993 Bottom-Up Review, two Nuclear Posture Reviews, and a host
of independent bomber studies. While the overall trend of these reviews has been to
reduce bomber aircraft numbers, Congress has resisted DOD’s desires to trim its
long-range strike arm.
Table 2. DOD-Recommended Bomber Force Structure Changes,
Recommended Force Structure
C o mme n t sB-52H B-1B B-2A To tal
1992 AF Bomber959620211B-1 priority of focus
Ro a d ma p
1993 DOD BUR(94)(70)(20)184100 bombers per regional
1994 DOD NPR66N/A2086aB-52H: -28 aircraft
1995 DOD Bomber(66)9520181Recommends no more B-2s
1997 DOD QDR719521187B-52H: +5 aircraft
1999 AF White Paper769321190B-52H: +5 aircraft, B-1: -2
2001 AF White Paper766021157B-1: -33 aircraft
2001 DOD QDR112 combat-coded
20 Ibid., p. 7.
21 Thompson, Loren “Searching for the Next B-52,” Armed Forces Journal, September
22 Barry Watts, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, February, 26, 2008.
Recommended Force Structure
C o mme n t sB-52H B-1B B-2A To tal
2002 DOD NPR76N/A2197a97 bombers for nuclear
mi ssio n
2006 DOD QDR56New bomber by 2018
2007 AF White Paper766721164
Notes: BUR-Bottom-Up Review, QDR-Quadrennial Defense Review, NPR-Nuclear Posture Review,
AF White Papers are Long-Range Strike White Papers. Numbers in parenthesis () were calculated
from sources other than the source document.
a. The total aircraft numbers for the two Nuclear Posture Reviews do not include B-1B aircraft
numbers because B-1Bs are no longer supported strategic nuclear weapons delivery.
Trends from 1992 to 2007. Over the past 15 years, the overall trend in the
Air Force-manned bomber fleet has been to move toward a leaner, more
conventionally effective force. The 1992 Air Force White Paper charted the initial
course for enhancements in conventional weapons delivery capabilities to ensure all
bomber aircraft had the ability to deliver the latest in precision-guided munitions.
While executing this strategy, budgetary pressures have resulted in trimming the fleet
from over 360 bombers, around the end of the Cold War, to a potential fleet size of
only 122 aircraft today. For comparison, in 1963, the United States had 709 B-52s
and more than 1,000 other regional bombers (B-47s and B-58s).23 Many DOD and
Air Force officials have touted the modernized bomber fleet as “more effective, more
survivable, and more supportable.”24 For example, one analyst noted that planned B-
2 modifications would allow the bomber to “achieve on one mission the same effects
that it took six missions to achieve during Operation Allied Force.”25
While the size of the bomber fleet has diminished over the past 15 years, its
utilization in combat has climbed. Since its inception in 1992, Air Combat
Command has charted the conversion path of today’s bombers from “dumb bomb”
droppers to a fleet that can deliver precision conventional weapons. During
Operation Allied Force over the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999, all three
U.S. bombers saw action. The B-2 made its combat debut; the B-1 delivered close
to 20% of the total tonnage of bombs, while flying not quite 2% of the total strike
sorties.26 The B-2s destroyed 90% of the targets they engaged. In Operation
Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, bombers accounted for only 20% of the combat
missions but dropped 76% of the bomb tonnage in the first three weeks of the air
23 U.S. Congressional Budget Office, Alternatives for Long-Range Ground Attack Systems,
by Robie Samanta Roy and David Arthur, March 2006, p. 2.
24 2001 USAF White Paper on Long-Range Strike, November 2001.
25 Tirpak, John A. “Bomber Questions,” Air Force Magazine, September 2001.
26 Grant, Rebecca, Return of the Bomber: The Future of Long-Range Strike, Air Force
Association Special Report, February 2007, p. 13.
campaign.27 In Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), B-1s were in such demand that
Central Command (CENTCOM) air component commander (then) Lt. Gen. Moseley
personally managed their scheduling.28
A number of defense analysts have noted that the past decade of funding bomber
advanced conventional weapons delivery enhancements, along with improvements
in support and sustainment, have paid off in recent air campaigns. However, others
have noted as the bomber becomes more a “weapon system of choice,” bomber fleet
availability will become more of an issue.
Past Congressional Actions
Congress has closely monitored the B-52H fleet after DOD’s decision to remove
the remaining B-52Gs from of service in the early 1990s. The 1995 National
Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (P.L. 103-337; 108 Stat 2687-2688 [Sec. 133
and 134]), in response to the 1993 Bottom-Up Review and 1994 Nuclear Posture
Review bomber force recommendations, introduced language preventing DOD from
retiring any B-52H, B-1B, or F-111 aircraft, while calling for a heavy bomber force
study. Over the next 12 years, Congress restricted DOD from retiring a portion of
its B-52H bomber fleet. In the 1996 NDAA (P.L. 104-106; 110 Stat 490 [Sec.
1404]), Congress specifically directed DOD to terminate its plans to retire 28 B-52Hs
and provided funding to retain all 94 B-52H bombers. However congressional
language did allow for the Air Force to sustain the 28 B-52Hs in “attrition reserve”
status.29 The allowance to place 28 B-52Hs in attrition reserve matches with the
Congress’s intent was to ensure that all 94 B-52Hs received standard maintenance
and scheduled upgrades, while allowing the Air Force to focus training and
operations on 66 “operational” B-52Hs.
In 1996, further Air Force analysis of the recommendations in the 1994 Nuclear
Posture Review’s bomber force requirements indicated that the Air Force would need
more than 66 B-52Hs in order to maintain 56 bombers in “mission-ready” status.30
Congress approved the Air Force’s requirement in the 1998 NDAA (P.L. 105-85; 111
Stat 1948 [Sec. 1302]) calling for 71 B-52H bombers to support strategic nuclear
delivery requirements. The 2000 NDAA (P.L. 106-65; 113 Stat 806 [Sec. 1501])
increased the B-52H “operational” force structure level to 76, matching the force
structure called for in the 2001 Air Force Long-Range Strike White Paper, while
leaving the remaining 18 to be kept in “attrition reserve” status.
27 Rolfson, Bruce, “Bombers Shine in Air War but Remain Budget Targets,” Air Force
Times, November 26, 2001.
28 Fulghum, David A. and Wall, Robert, “Baghdad Confidential,” Aviation Week, April 28,
2003. Note: Only 12 B-1s were available at the time for OIF because a portion of the B-1
fleet was undergoing modification and others were on alert for other contingency support.
29 H.Rept. 104-450, Sec. 1404, January 22, 1996.
30 CRS Report 96-645, Nuclear Weapons in U.S. Defense Policy: Issues for Congress, by
Amy F. Woolf (out of print but available from the author).
Congressional restrictions on B-52H force structure remained the same until the
2007 NDAA. Prompted by the 2006 QDR’s desire to retire 38 B-52Hs, the 2007
NDAA (P.L. 109-364; 120 Stat. 2111 [Sec. 131]) authorized retiring no more than
B-52s. In addition, the 2007 NDAA specified this retirement limitation period would
not end until a long-range strike replacement aircraft reached initial operational
capability, or January 1, 2018, whichever comes first. Finally, besides directing the
Air Force to provide a report on bomber force structure, the 2007 NDAA directed the
Air Force to place all retired B-52s in Type-1000 storage at the Aerospace
Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC).31
The 2008 NDAA (P.L. 110-181 [Sec. 137]) modified slightly the guidance in
the 2007 NDAA to ensure DOD maintained at least 63 “Primary Aircraft
Authorized” B-52Hs.32 The 2008 NDAA also specified that 11 aircraft would serve
as backup inventory and 2 as attrition reserve for a B-52H force structure of 76
aircraft. The conference report noted:
The conferees believe that a B-52 total aircraft inventory of less than 76 aircraft
is not sufficient to meet combatant commander requirements for conventional,
long-range strike requirements if the need should arise to conduct near
simultaneous operations in two major regional conflicts. The conferees strongly
discourage the Secretary of the Air Force from taking action to reduce the B-52
aircraft inventory below 76 total aircraft prior to the next generation bomber
reaching initial operational capability status and strongly oppose a strategy that33
reduces current conventional long-range strike capability.
FY2009 Budget Request
The President’s Budget for FY2009 contained no funding for the Next
Generation Bomber. Even with the compressed timeline, this is in line with DOD’s
stated intentions. Sue Payton, Air Force head of Acquisition, stated that “we will not
have a budget to really move forward with the money that we need to do integration
of the currently existing technologies that are out there until FY10.”34 While some
industry experts continue to question the Air Force’s commitment to meeting the
2018 mandate, IRIS Independent Research president, Dr. Rebecca Grant, notes that
the new bomber will not need a lot of freshly developed technology, but can utilize
technologies developed for other aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35.35 The Air Force
is hoping to take advantage of industry expertise through a “fly-off” between
companies vying for the next bomber aircraft contract. As discussed below, Boeing
31 Type-1000 (long-term storage) is where the integrity of all aircraft systems are maintained
and each aircraft is re-preserved after inspection every four years.
32 Refer to Appendix A for additional information.
33 H.Rept. 110-477, December 6, 2007.
34 Putrich, Gayle S., “U.S. Air Force: No 2009 Money for Next-Gen Bomber,” Defense
News, December 10, 2007.
and Lockheed Martin have already teamed up and are investing their own funds in
an effort to win a potential competition.
The President’s FY2009 Budget also contains funding for only 56 operational
B-52 bombers. While this action is in line with the Air Force’s desire to reduce the
B-52 fleet by an additional 20 bombers, it goes against the 2008 NDAA guidance to
keep a B-52 force structure of 76 aircraft.
Issues for the Air Force
The Need for a New Bomber by 2018
The Air Force has acknowledged its need for a new long-range strike system
given expected advances in air defense systems. The issue will be whether the Air
Force can afford a new bomber or will have to sustain and improve the bombers it
currently has. The overall average age of the current bomber fleet is 30.9 years and
will reach over 40 years, at best case, before a new bomber will take to the air. There
is considerable debate whether a new bomber is needed or can be delivered to the Air
Force by the 2018 mandate. The current fleet of long-range bombers is structurally
sound and should be available to fly well into the 2030s and 2040s, barring any
unforseen major structural issue.36 As recently at 2007, the Air Force extended the
B-52’s and B-1’s service lives, while the B-2’s service life was last analyzed in 2004.
More of an issue, however, is the current bomber fleet’s viability in a medium- or
high-threat environment. During a recent long-range strike assessment seminar
hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), one participant
noted that “the bomber fleet will be largely relegated to stand-off engagements
because the threat of double digit [advanced surface-to-air missiles], fighters and next
generation [integrated air defense systems] will be too difficult to penetrate.”37 The
latest Air Force bomber White Paper simply states that “...the B-1 and B-52 are not
survivable under the 2015-2020 expected threat picture.”38 The Air Force believes
that anticipated advances in defensive systems will leave only 21 (now 20) B-2s with
the capability to penetrate and survive in a high-threat environment.
However, some analysts have noted that advocacy from the “relevant combatant
commands, particularly Strategic Command and Pacific Command, seems weak and
ambivalent.”39 Another analyst noted that “the Air Force has not yet made either the
policy case or the technical case for a new bomber, nor has it provided a realistic
assessment of likely costs and tradeoffs.”40 Without combatant command advocacy,
successfully defending the requirement for a new bomber in a fiscally constrained
36 2007 USAF Long Range Strike White Paper, p. 6.
37 Murdock, Clark A., “US Air Force Bomber Modernization Plans: An Independent
Assessment,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, January 25, 2008, p. 12.
38 2007 USAF Long Range Strike White Paper, p. 13.
39 Murdock, p. 7.
40 Ibid., p. 7.
environment could prove extremely challenging. James Durham, director of joint
advanced concepts in the Pentagon’s Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics
(OSD/AT&L), commented in late 2006 that “we all know we need [a new bomber]
but we don’t know how much or when.”41
Part of the combatant command’s ambivalence and Air Force concern could
stem from the issue of what role the next (or interim) bomber is expected to fill. Is
the focus of the interim bomber going to be lower-end missions, such as close air
support for ground forces engaged in irregular warfare, or high-end missions
penetrating deep into a peer adversary’s heavily defended territory? One analyst,
following the long-range strike seminars at CSIS, questioned whether a bomber
focused more on the low-end threats would even qualify as a “next generation
bomber” because it would reduce the need for revolutionary capabilities required for
survival in a higher-threat environment.42
In addition, the Air Force will most likely need to reexamine its overall mix of
long- and short-range attack assets in the current fiscally constrained environment.
At present, there is over a 14:1 ratio of fighter to bomber aircraft in both the active
and reserve Air Force inventory.43 In terms of investment, a Center for Strategic and
Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) study in 2005 noted that the ratio of short- to long-
range investments is approximately 18:1 when taking unmanned strike systems into
consideration.44 The appropriate mix of long- and short-range assets will be highly
dependent on what OSD, Congress, and the next administration see as the United
State’s next major threat. Potential issues such as U.S. basing-rights in
allied/friendly nations and enemy “anti-access/area-denial” capabilities will play a
The Feasability of a “2018” Bomber
The feasability of a “2018” bomber will be highly dependent on the capabilities
that will be required in the new aircraft. Again, this goes back to the anticipated role
the new bomber is expected to play. As one defense analyst puts it, “you can have
a new bomber [by 2018], but the issue is really how capable a bomber you’ll have.”45
A number of senior defense analysts and industry representatives expressed
reservations about the feasability of meeting the 2018 target date “if radical solutions
41 Bennett, John T. “USAF ‘Having A Hard Time’ Starting Bomber Program, OSD Official
Says,” Inside The Air Force, September 1, 2006.
42 Conversation with Clark Murdock, Center For Strategic and International Studies, March
43 This ratio drops to just under 10:1 when analyzing the active force only.
44 Watts, Barry D. “Long-Range Strike: Imperatives, Urgency and Options,” Center for
Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, April 2005, Pg. 20.
45 Conversation with Clark Murdock, Center For Strategic and International Studies, March
are to be pursued [e.g., to penetrate highly defended areas].”46 However, a
commercial derivative, or a derivative of an aircraft already in production (such as
the F-22), capable of handling the lower-end threats appears to be achievable by
To accelerate development of a new aircraft, the Air Force is currently looking
into the possibility of commissioning a “fly-off” to determine the best system to meet
the Air Force’s specifications. However, for the Air Force to have a new bomber
reach Initial Operational Capability by 2018, some have noted that cutoff for
development of technologies for the bomber will be 2009, useful prototype
demonstrations need to be conducted by 2011, and procurement has to begin around
2013.48 One defense analyst stated that the 2018 target date is unrealistic and that it
will put heavy pressure on companies to begin gearing up for the competition.49
Michael Wynne, the Secretary of the Air Force, noted that it was going to be a
struggle to carry out the QDR mandate.50
Myriad ongoing or near-term acquisition projects will compete with the next
generation bomber for funding. KC-X, CSAR-X, C-5 RERP, F-22, Joint Strike
Fighter (F-35), and Joint Cargo Aircraft will all compete for a share of the potentially
shrinking DOD budget over the next decade. Successful procurement of the new
bomber is going to rely on strong advocacy from the Air Force — something one
analyst stated “lacks conviction and credibility.”51
However, industry is moving ahead to field a new bomber by 2018. Boeing and
Lockheed Martin, two of the three industry leaders who are expected to compete for
the bomber contract, recently teamed up to begin work on a new bomber aircraft.
Their main competitor is expected to be Northrop Grumman, builder of the B-2. The
Boeing/Lockheed Martin partnership comes a year after Lockheed Martin’s executive
vice president and general manager of Advanced Development Programs and
Strategic Planning, Frank Cappuccio, expressed frustration over DOD’s lack of
clarity in defining what its wants in its next generation bomber.52 Now that the two
leading defense contractors have teamed up to compete for the next big aircraft
program, it is unknown how this will affect a decision by Northrop Grumman, the
third-largest defense contractor, to compete in the program. If Northrop Grumman
46 Murdock, Clark A., “US Air Force Bomber Modernization Plans: An Independent
Assessment,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, January 25, 2008, p. 14.
47 Ibid., p. 14.
48 Murdock, p. 14.
49 Montgomery, Dave, “Long-Range Plan; Pentagon Wants New High-Tech Bomber,” Fort
Worth Star-Telegram, February 4, 2006.
50 Bennett, John T., “USAF Officials Offer Glimpse of Requirements for Long-Range
Strike,” Inside The Air Force, February 10, 2006.
51 Murdock, p. 2.
52 Sirak, Michael, “Skunk Works Head Calls on Industry to Take Lead in Defining Future
Long-Range Strike,” Defense Daily, February 2, 2007.
bows out, there would probably be no competitor for Boeing and Lockheed Martin
and the Air Force desire for a “fly-off” might become moot.
Analysts also don’t know how far the Air Force is actually along in its efforts
to field a new bomber aircraft. Then Commander of Air Combat Command, General
Ronald Keys, stated in 2006 that he felt the new bomber program would start out as
“black” — meaning a number of the capabilities of a potential new aircraft would be
kept classified.53 Besides potentially limiting a program’s scrutiny and oversight,
“black” programs have been known to streamline the acquisition process and allow
fielding of a new weapons system without the typical hurdles of their unclassified
counterparts. Many point to the F-117 Stealth Fighter as a successful acquisition
program because the program remained classified. However, some have noted that
when the B-2 went from “black” to “white” — unclassified — “the sticker shock
undermined support, even among defense supporters that would normally be allies.”54
While it is possible that the Air Force is farther along in development of the next
generation bomber than is publically known, a number of defense analysts are
concerned that keeping the program classified will, in the end, undermine its political
2018 Bomber Capabilities
There has been a tremendous amount of discussion and debate about what
capabilities should be included in the next bomber. Industry and the Air Force are
currently weighing tradeoffs between speed and persistence, range and weapons load,
and manned versus unmanned flight. Although it has yet to precisely define the
requirements for the 2018 bomber, the Air Force has identified nine desired
capabilities of a new long-range strike system56:
!Responsive: Strike remote targets quickly (hours to minutes)
!Sufficient Range: Reach target from U.S. or forward location
!Mixed Load of Modern Munitions: Nuclear-capable
!Highly Survivable in Hostile Airspace: Low observable
!Persistent: Ability to attack targets over prolonged timeframe
!Comprehensive Situational Awareness: Advanced sensors
!Robust Connectivity: Tied into global military networks
!Flexible and Adaptable: Modularity and Open Architecture
Analysts have noted that it is highly unlikely that all of these attributes can be
achieved in a single aircraft by the 2018 timeframe. However, Rebecca Grant of IRIS
53 Munoz, Carlo, “Long-Range Strike Effort Will Start as ‘Black’ Program, Keys Says,”
Inside the Air Force, September 29, 2006.
54 Murdock, p. 17.
55 Ibid., p. 18.
56 Thompson, Loren “Searching for the Next B-52,” Armed Forces Journal, September
notes the following list of capabilities and program milestones are solidifying with
respect to the 2018 bomber57:
!Total Buy: ~100 aircraft
!Combat Radius: 2000 Nautical miles minimum (unrefueled)
!Payload: 28,000 lb.
!Speed: “High Subsonic”
!Very Low Observable — Improved Stealth technology
! Nucl ear-capabl e
!Technology reaching maturity by 2009
!Demonstration flight by 2011
Speed Versus Persistence. Most analysts agree that one of the major
“tradeoffs” the Air Force might have to make to meet the 2018 mandate is the speed
of the aircraft. While DOD is pursuing the development of hypersonic engines
capable of accelerating an aircraft beyond Mach 5, they are unlikely to be ready for
a 2018 bomber. Further, there is an “observability” penalty that a stealth design
incurs at speeds above Mach 2+. The Air Force would need to develop new types of
radar-absorbing materials to operate at higher airspeeds. In addition, DOD will need
to overcome manufacturing issues in creating an affordable “ramjet” engine for
hypersonic speeds. DOD, however, is poised to unveil a new program called
“Blackswift.” The Blackswift Program will be the follow-on to the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) FALCON — Force Application
and Launch from the Continental United States. FALCON’s goal was to develop a
vehicle capable of delivering 12,000 lb. of payload across a distance of 9,000
Nautical miles in less than two hours.58 Consequently, Blackswift, and other
programs like it, addresses more the issue of “prompt” rather than “persistence.”
On the other hand, the Air Force will likely be able to develop an aircraft with
a speed below Mach 2 by 2018. Initially, both Lockheed Martin and Northrop
Grumman expressed interest in offering designs with at least a supersonic “dash”
capability — short duration flight above Mach 1. As with all design features, there
will be a tradeoff in range, payload, or aircraft size in order to support higher than
Mach 1 speeds. Currently, it appears that the need for range and persistence, relying
on stealth for increased survivability, is driving a high-subsonic speed requirement
(not to mention the added cost of higher than Mach 1 travel). George Muellner,
president of Boeing’s Advanced Systems, noted, “The materials used for signature
57 Grant, Rebecca, “Long-Range Strike: Options and Alternatives (Read-Ahead for CSIS
working Group), IRIS, December 12, 2007. Note: PowerPoint presentation provided to the
Long-Range Strike seminars conducted by Clark Murdock of CSIS. Some additional
expected capabilities were discussed and added by the seminar participants (namely, the
expectation of the next generation aircraft to be 2-engine).
58 Sprenger, Sebastian, “DOD to Unveil ‘Blackswift’ Hypersonic Aircraft Program Next
Month,” InsideDefense.com, January 25, 2008.
reduction get stressed above Mach 2, and you have to get much faster if you are
going to rely only on speed to survive.”59
One final note on the concept of persistence. Persistence can be achieved a
number of ways. In addition, persistence could mean different things in different
operational environments. Normally, one equates long loiter time to persistence, and
this concept is well-suited for today’s operations supporting troops on the ground.
However, one might argue that the Air Force need is for a weapons system that is
able to attack targets deep in enemy territory over a continuous period. Persistence
in this case might focus more on persistent intelligence and an ability to strike
promptly. One’s view of persistence could alter the quantities needed of the next
generation bomber. It would be difficult to replicate the operational construct of
NORTHERN and SOUTHERN WATCH over Iraq during the 1990s, in which
numerous fighter aircraft flew watch over the region, with only a handful of bombers.
It is not that anyone is expecting the next generation bomber to be procured in
numbers capable of supporting round-the-clock coverage over a large landmass;
however, one must take into consideration the impacts on “persistence” if the buy
profile is too small.
Dual Role: Conventional/Nuclear Capability. With the B-1 removed
from the nuclear mission in the 1990s, the bomber portion of the “nuclear triad”
consists of 76 B-52s and 20 B-1s. While the B-52 currently has a service life well
into the 2030s, the Air Force has been trying to retire the venerable bomber for a
number of years. Both the B-1 and B-2 initially were conceived as replacement
platforms for the B-52. If the Air Force were to retire the B-52 without a
replacement aircraft designed to assume its nuclear delivery role, the “strategic”
portion of the bomber fleet would then reside in 20 B-2 aircraft. Some defense
analysts point to this issue as the key reason why the next generation bomber needs
to be nuclear-capable. Those supporting the need for a new nuclear bomber also see
it serving in a counter-proliferation role. One analyst noted “that an air-breathing
[long-range strike system] will be more credible in terms of deterring countries such
as Iran than the threat of intercontinental ballistic missiles.”60
However, others have argued that making the next bomber dual-capable
decreases the likelihood of it actually being fielded. Opponents of a new nuclear
bomber note that protecting the aircraft against electro-magnetic pulses (EMP) is a
very expensive proposition and could increase the cost of the bomber by up to 25%-
30%.61 The costs to “harden” the next generation bomber against EMP will depend
on the degree of hardening the designers deem necessary. While some have noted
that some level of EMP-hardening will be necessary, the ability to operate in an
environment in which multiple nuclear detonations have occurred could greatly
increase costs. Moreover, countries such as China could view a new U.S. penetration
nuclear bomber as threatening and respond accordingly.
59 Warwick, Graham, “US Industry Leans Toward Solutions That Can Switch From Manned
to Unmanned,” Flight International, August 1, 2006.
60 Murdock, p. 13.
61 Ibid., p. 13.
The Bush Administration, through the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, has
stressed “adaptive planning” and increasing the range of strategic deterrence options
available to US officials. Basically, numbers became less important and overall
deterrence capability became the primary focus. It remains to be seen whether
arguments to enhance strategic deterrence with a new nuclear-capable bomber will
overcome the added costs, international implications, and possible negative public
perceptions stemming from a potentially unmanned bomber replacement.
The 2018 bomber began as the 2037 bomber. In 2001, following the September
11 attacks, Pentagon acquisition chief E.C. “Pete” Aldridge told the Air Force to
accelerate its development of a new long-range strike platform.62 DOD didn’t begin
to focus on the 2018 date until the 2006 QDR, formally accelerating development of
the next bomber by almost 20 years. As previously noted, the current bomber fleet
should remain structurally sound until the 2030s or 2040s. However, the viability of
the B-1 and B-52 as effective weapons systems, coupled with the Air Force’s desire
to retire 38 B-52s, prompted DOD’s 2018 mandate. Many have questioned the Air
Force’s efforts towards fielding a new bomber while facing the challenge of
recapitalizing numerous other aircraft.63 Further, the timeline is going to be very
tight to meet the 2018 target date. General Moseley noted back in 2006, however,
that 2018 is a “mark on the wall.”64
If one takes the current plan for an interim bomber in the 2018 timeframe, and
a follow-on bomber with advances such as hypersonic flight in 2037, building a
bomber with 2008-2009 technology might not be problematic for the Air Force. The
major difficulty will probably be the fiscal tradeoffs that will have to take place to fit
this acquisition program into a crowded field. The past is replete with examples of
budgetary constraints resulting in drawn out or severely curtailed programs. If
history repeats with the 2018 bomber, the Air Force might field its interim fix in the
mid to late 2020s with far fewer bombers than planned. Table 3 shows the disparity
between the initial planned Air Force aircraft acquisition procurement numbers and
the end result of those programs.
62 “Long Distance Affair; The Pentagon’s Fixation on Long-Range Strikes is Shortsighted,”
Armed Forces Journal, August 2006.
63 This concern was again highlighted during the recent seminars on Long-Range Strike
hosted by CSIS. See Clark Murdock’s CSIS Assessment for more.
64 Bennett, John T., “Wynne: FY08 POM Will Include ‘Fly-Before-Buy’ Plan for New
Bomber,” Inside the Air Force, March 31, 2006.
Table 3. Air Force Aircraft Acquisition Programs:
Planned Buy vs. Actual Procurement
Ai rcraf t P l anned P rocured
J SF 2,852 2,443a
Notes:. B-X represents the Next Generation Bomber.
a. The JSF procurement total of 2443 aircraft is the current program position
The two examples of severely curtailed acquisition programs are the B-2 and F-
22. The B-2 program began prior to the end of the Cold War and suffered drastic
cuts in the 1990s. The F-22 suffered the same fate once the specter of war with the
Soviet Union diminished and the program experienced significant cost growth and
schedule slippage. It remains to be seen whether the Joint Strike Fighter will suffer
the same fate. It currently appears that the initial planned acquisition program for the
next generation (2018) bomber will be about 100 aircraft. Program development
delays or additional costs resulting from changing requirements could drive a
corresponding increase in unit cost for the new bomber. This in turn could result in
a decreased buy and a repeat of the acquisition difficulties previous aircraft programs
What also remains to be seen is whether the Air Force will establish a firm set
of requirements for the bomber and avoid adding technological advances to the
program during its development. If there is potential for a future 2037 bomber to be
delayed, or abandoned completely, the Air Force may feel pressure to enhance the
2018 bomber as much as possible — creating a final solution instead of the planned
interim fix. Some have noted that the Air Force could end up with a bomber that is
way over budget, late in delivery, lacking in capabilities, limited in numbers, and, in
the end, the cause of delaying or elimination of the 2037 bomber the Air Force truly
wants. However one defense expert calls the 2037 bomber “a mythical beast” and
questions why the Air Force even talks about it.65
65 Putrich, Gayle S., “U.S. Air Force: No 2009 Money for Next-Gen Bomber,” Defense
News, December 10, 2007.
The 2001 National Defense Authorization Act set a goal for the Armed Forces
that one-third of “operational deep strike” aircraft fleet be unmanned by 2010.66 The
DOD 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review directed that the Air Force improve its
long-range strike capabilities by 50% and that 35% of those strike forces should be
unmanned. Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) proponents and defense analysts, in
light of past guidance from Congress and DOD, have noted that the next generation
bomber would be an excellent candidate for a potentially unmanned system. The Air
Force’s program for a new bomber actually took on new emphasis with DOD’s
termination of the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program. Some
analysts have noted that the joint Air Force/Navy program would have encountered
difficulties meeting the disparate needs of the two services. Terminating J-UCAS
has allowed the Air Force to refocus its funds on a more appropriate long-range strike
system — not necessarily signaling an end to an unmanned bomber system.
Currently, the only unmanned “strike” assets are the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper
and MQ-1 Predator. The Air Force has just under 100 MQ-1s and 10 MQ-9s in its
active inventory, with plans to add approximately 100 additional aircraft. However,
the 10 MQ-9s would be the only UAS considered “long-range” given its 1,600 nm
combat radius (3,200 nm range).67 While it remains to be seen whether the Air Force
will meet the congressional mandate by 2010, it will have to develop an unmanned
version of the next generation bomber in order to meet both DOD’s and Congress’s
More of an issue is how the debate will flow, both within Congress and
publically, over the idea of B-2 “like” unmanned aircraft. While some might not take
exception to an unmanned strike aircraft capable of carrying a small number of
weapons, the debate could be quite different about an unmanned nuclear-capable
bomber aircraft able to carry close to 30,000 pounds of advanced weapons. Issues
such as datalink security and weapons surety will have to be addressed. Public
perception will most likely play a big role in helping to shape the future debate about
an unmanned bomber. “Optionally” manning68 (can be flown remotely or with a pilot
in the seat) the next generation bomber could assuage the fears of those concerned
with aircraft command and control. With respect to the technological hurdles of
making an unmanned or optionally manned bomber, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and
Northrop Grumman all agree than an unmanned bomber is feasible by 2018.69
66 P.L. 106-398; 114 Stat. 1654A-38.
67 U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet, MQ-9 Reaper.
68 Another term used is “unmannable” — an aircraft that could begin as a manned aircraft
and then evolve over time to unmanned operations.
69 Warwick, Graham, “US Industry Leans Toward Solutions That Can Switch From Manned
to Unmanned,” Flight International, August 1, 2006.
As previously stated, the anticipated competitors for the next generation bomber
are Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Boeing and Lockheed
Martin have already announced their partnership. Northrop Grumman could find it
difficult to compete with the combined resources of the two larger defense
contractors. However, Northrop Grumman has continued as the prime contractor for
the Navy’s ongoing effort to develop a new series of weaponized unmanned aerial
vehicles, and has the most recent experience building bomber aircraft.
Numerous analysts have expressed concern over the atrophying of the industrial
skill set necessary to successfully develop bomber aircraft. It has been over 20 years
since the last bomber aircraft, the B-2, was in development. One must add another
However, each of the primary competitors has had recent involvement with stealth
and other aircraft advances that will play a big part in the next bomber aircraft. One
defense expert noted that recent advances in one program, such as the F-22 and F-35,
can be applied to another to reduce costs. The RAND Corporation, however, noted
that “expertise at designing and developing complex aircraft systems comes only
from the direct experience of designing and developing such systems.”70 While
RAND notes some interchangeability of experience across military aircraft types,
there is great potential for developmental problems stemming from a lack of recent
bomber design experience. This potential for development difficulties will only
increase as time passes before the next concerted effort to build a follow-on bomber
aircraft. The results of the competition among the primary industrial leaders for the
2018 bomber will most likely have a profound effect on the competition for the 2037
Issues for Congress
How Many Bombers Does the Air Force Need?
Defense analysts and industry are anticipating an Air Force acquisition program
of about 100 aircraft. It is unknown how many B-52s and B-1s the Air Force would
retain if and when it fields a next generation bomber. The number of bombers
procured with this program will be dependent on the viability of the remaining legacy
fleet, the cost of the new bomber, and the timeframe in which the Air Force could be
expected to field a follow-on to the 2018 bomber. Again, the procurement objective
will depend on whether one views this program as an interim fix or a final solution.
Advances in the Prompt Global Strike area of analysis could also have an impact
on the required bomber numbers. Missile advances could increase the longevity of
70 Lorell, Mark A. “Bomber R&D Since 1945, The Role of Experience,” RAND Report MR-
670-AF, RAND, 1995; Barefield, James L., Major, USAF, “The Heavy Bomber Industrial
Base: A Study of Present and Future Capabilities,” Air Command and Staff College, March
the current fleet by allowing those bombers to remain outside the range of potential
Finally, aircraft procurement numbers could depend on the current debate
between long-range and short-range attack aircraft. Deep cuts in the Joint Strike
Fighter program could generate an increase in requirements for advanced bomber
When Will the Air Force Need These Bombers?
While the Air Force has agreed to developing and fielding a new bomber by
2018, this date appears to have been dictated to the Air Force from OSD and
Congress. The need for a new bomber is dependent on where and how conflicts
between 2015 and 2040 will be fought. If one views conflict in the Far East as either
most likely or most dangerous, the need for this bomber increases. If one feels future
conflicts will be similar to ones currently being conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan
— basically over uncontested airspace — then there is potential for the Air Force to
delay its fielding of a new bomber while keeping up with modernization efforts of
its current fleet.
What Capabilities Should These Bombers Possess?
The technologies the Air Force truly wants in its future bomber aircraft will not
have matured in time for incorporation in a 2018 bomber. A number of industry
representatives and defense analysts note that stealth will be needed to allow
operations in high-threat environments if hypersonic speeds are unattainable. While
a combination of speed and stealth should have an exponential effect on
survivability, it appears that they cannot both be available in an “affordable” 2018
bomber. Therefore, it currently appears that speed above Mach 1 and below Mach
Another issue that will most likely be debated is the need for the bomber portion
of the “nuclear triad.” If the next generation bomber is touted as a replacement for
the B-52, then one would assume then that it needs to be nuclear-capable also. If one
agrees with the direction of the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review and apparent “de-
emphasizing”of the nuclear triad, then one might conclude that the next generation
bomber need not be nuclear-capable. Geopolitical issues such as the potential for a
“nuclear” Iran will play a role in this decision process.
Should the Next Generation Bomber Be Unmanned or
Current congressional direction will drive the Air Force to make at least a
portion of the new bomber fleet unmanned or “optionally” manned. Optionally
manning the bomber — that is, having a seat for a pilot when needed — will most
likely increase the cost of the new bomber. Additional factors will be whether there
will be a need for one or two pilots. Again, the decision on whether the aircraft will
be nuclear-capable, because of nuclear weapons surety policy, will have an impact
on that decision. One could expect vigorous public debate over an unmanned “B-2
like” aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons. If one concludes that the next
generation bomber will need to have a nuclear delivery mission, one might consider
developing two similar but different airframes — one unmanned for conventional
strike and one manned for both conventional and nuclear missions.
How Much Will the Next Generation Bomber Cost?
Because the Air Force does not have a formal proposal out for the next
generation bomber, it is difficult to determine the potential cost of the program.
What has been announced is the Air Force’s plan to spend at least $1.6 billion
through 2011 on the future bomber program. However, one analyst notes that it is
going to take between $8 billion and $10 billion to develop the future aircraft.71 As
for actual aircraft cost, it will be highly dependent on the number of aircraft procured.
Should There Be FY2009 Funding for the Bomber Program?
As mentioned earlier, Sue Payton, Air Force Chief of Acquisition, has stated,
“For the next-generation bomber, we will not have a budget to really move forward
with the money that we need to do integration of the currently existing technologies72
that are out there until FY10.” Ms. Payton has also stated that it is the Air Force’s
intent to “put more money up front” and support an industry competition for the best73
preliminary design. Boeing and Lockheed Martin have already teamed up and are
expending their own resources in the hope of winning a future “fly-off.” Northrop
Grumman, while not officially announcing its intentions, appears to be formulating
its own submission. The question is whether there will be any impact in delaying Air
Force funding for this competition till FY2010, or whether initial industry efforts and
investments will be sufficient to allow a new bomber to be operational by 2018.
71 Nolan, John, “Defense Giants Vie for $10B Bomber Deal; Lockheed Martin and Boeing
Will Pursue the Air Force Contract; Northrop Grumman Interested.” Dayton Daily News,
January 26, 2008.
72 Putrich, Gayle S., “U.S. Air Force: No 2009 Money for Next-Gen Bomber,” Defense
News, December 10, 2007.
Appendix A. Aircraft Classification Definitions
PAA — Primary Aircraft Authorized: The number of aircraft authorized to
a unit for performance of its operational mission. The primary authorization forms
the basis for the allocation of operating resources to include manpower, support
equipment, and flying-hour funds.
BAI — Backup Aircraft Inventory: Aircraft in addition to the primary aircraft
inventory that permit scheduled and unscheduled depot-level maintenance,
modifications, inspections, repairs, and other events without reduction of aircraft
available for the assigned mission.
Attrition Reserve: Aircraft procured for the specific purpose of replacing the
anticipated losses of aircraft because of peacetime and/or wartime attrition.
Combat-Coded: Aircraft capable of performing “operational wartime”
missions. (Note: Not an official DOD/Joint Staff definition.)
Figure 1. Table from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction
(CJCSI) 4410.01D, Standardized Terminology for Aircraft Inventory
Management, March 23, 2007
It is important to note the challenges one will encounter analyzing the aircraft
terms used by the reports. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff publication (JP) 1-
02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, and
instruction (CJCSI) 4410.01D, Standard Terminology for Aircraft Inventory
Management, are the primary sources for aircraft terminology. Over time, terms such
as “operational,” “combat-coded,” and “attrition reserve” have been used to help
define certain categories of aircraft. Some terms, such as “attrition reserve,” have
made their way into the Joint publications. Others, such as “combat-coded,” have yet
to make it into these two authoritative Joint documents.
Throughout this report, both congressional language and DOD papers and
studies have used terms for bomber aircraft categories that, at times, make it difficult
to compare force structure requirements from year to year. The 2008 NDAA took the
extra step to define Primary Aircraft Authorized (PAA), Back-up Aircraft Inventory
(BAI), and attrition reserve aircraft. These definitions follow closely the definitions
in the two Joint documents. However, to highlight the difficulty one might have in
tracking bomber numbers, the 2008 NDAA stated a B-52H PAA requirement of 63
aircraft, while the previous year’s NDAA noted a requirement of 44 “combat-coded”
B-52Hs. Because PAA also includes trainer and test aircraft that are performing
primary unit missions of training and test/evaluation, it could very well be that there
was no change in the number of aircraft required for combat operations between the
2007 and 2008 NDAAs. The 2007 Air Force White Paper confirms this by noting
that 15 B-52s will be used for training and 4 B-52s for test along with the 44 noted
for combat operations.
Appendix B. DOD Bomber Direction, 1992 to 2007
1992 U.S. Air Force Bomber Roadmap
In 1992, the Air Force published a bomber roadmap to help chart the future of
the bomber force in a post-Cold War environment. The study notes the focus of this
roadmap was to help guide the conversion of the current fleet of long-range strike
aircraft from a nuclear to a more conventional mission focus.74 The newly formed
Air Combat Command75 followed the guidance in the roadmap and began funding
the upgrades needed to enhance bomber conventional weapons delivery, develop a
bomber “concept of operations” to more effectively incorporate the bomber into
conventional operations, and refocus training away from the more detail-oriented
nuclear mission towards the more realistic and equally demanding conventional
theater air campaign support role. In addition, Air Combat Command needed a
bomber plan to address the reduction of B-2 procurement to 20 aircraft as the first
Bush Administration adjusted to a post Soviet Union threat environment. The
roadmap of 1992 concluded that a bomber force of 95 B-52Hs, 96 B-1Bs, and 20 B-
2s (211 heavy bombers in all) would meet current and future requirements.76 The
roadmap also declared the B-1 as the “backbone of the conventional bomber force”
and that future bomber investments would focus on B-1 conventional
enhancem ent s . 77
1993 Bottom-Up Review
DOD’s 1993 Bottom-Up Review (BUR) took a “building block” approach to
force structure. In a new post-Cold War environment, the BUR called for a force
structure that will allow the United States to handle two major regional conflicts
nearly simultaneously.78 For bomber aircraft, the BUR called for 100 heavy bomber
aircraft to meet the first regional conflict and an overall bomber force of 184 aircraft
(B-1s, B-2s and B-52Hs) to execute the remainder of the strategy.79 The BUR echoed
the 1992 Air Force Bomber Roadmap’s recommendations to upgrade the bomber
fleet in order to allow the bombers to carry the latest advanced conventional
74 Department of the Air Force, Enhancing the Nation’s Conventional Bomber Force: The
Bomber Roadmap, June 1992, p. 1.
75 Air Combat Command stood up on June 1, 1992, combining the units of the inactivated
commands of Tactical Air Command and Strategic Air Command. In essence, Air Combat
Command combined both tactical fighter aircraft and strategic bomber aircraft under one
76 1992 US Air Force Bomber Roadmap, p. 6.
77 Ibid., p. 9.
78 1993 Department of Defense “Bottom-Up Review” (Section 2: Defense Strategy for the
79 Ibid. (Note: The BUR noted a requirement of 20 B-2s and 94 B-52Hs. While not directly
stated, given the BUR’s recommendation for 184 bombers in total, 70 B-1s would fill the
remainder of the requirement. That would have required retiring 26 B-1s, which had just
reached operational status five years prior.)
munitions.80 However, many voiced concerns over the bomber cuts being called for
in the 1993 BUR. General Loh, Air Combat Command’s commander at the time,
stated that the nation needed about 180 “operational”81 bombers to handle two major
regional conflicts, excluding aircraft for backup inventory, attrition reserves, and
flight test.82 General (retired) Charles Horner, architect of the Gulf War air
campaign, maintained that the Air Force needed at least 40 B-2s, which was twice
as many as the planned buy.83
1994 Nuclear Posture Review
The 1994 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), serving as the nuclear analog to the
1993 conventional forces Bottom-Up Review, also addressed the manned bomber
fleet. The 1994 NPR further cemented DOD’s decision to “reorient” the B-1B to a
conventional-only role while calling for 66 B-52s and no more than 20 B-2s to
support the nuclear mission.84 This decision called for a 28 aircraft reduction in the
B-52 fleet from the previous year’s BUR. The NPR also acknowledges the B-52’s
limited survivability by relegating the B-52 to a “standoff” nuclear delivery weapon
employing air launched cruise missiles.85
1995 DOD Heavy Bomber Force Study
This classified study, initiated at the direction of Congress, was noted to be “the
most significant and comprehensive study to date that considered the use of all three86
heavy bombers in the conventional warfighting role...” Under Secretary of Defense
for Acquisition and Technology, Paul Kaminski, presented an unclassified summary
of this study to the National Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on
Appropriations. The study concluded the following: (1) the currently planned87
bomber force of 181 aircraft was sufficient to handle two nearly simultaneous major
regional contingencies; (2) procurement of additional advanced guided munitions
would be more cost effective than procurement of 20 additional B-2s; (3) the planned
bomber force with accurate guided munitions provides a prudent hedge against threat
80 Gunzinger, Mark, Beyond The Bottom-Up Review, National Defense University Institute
for National Strategic Studies.
81 Refer to Appendix A for a discussion on aircraft terminology.
82 Gunzinger, Beyond The Bottom-Up Review.
84 Department of Defense news release, “DOD Review Recommends Reduction in Nuclear
Force,” September 22, 1994.
85 The Nuclear Information Project, “1994 Nuclear Posture Review,” July 8, 2005, at
[http://www.nukestrat.com/us/reviews/npr1994.htm]; accessed on January 17, 2008.
86 Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology Paul G. Kaminski’s
testimony before the National Security Subcommittee of the House Committee on
Appropriations on Bomber Modernization, May 17, 1995.
87 The bomber requirement was increased from 181 to 187 in 1995 with the decisions to
fund the conversion of 1 B-2 test aircraft to operational status and increasing the B-52
requirement from 66 to 71 aircraft because of desires for a larger attrition reserve force.
uncertainties; and (4) planned B-1 conventional upgrades are more cost effective than
procurement of 20 additional B-2s.88 This study also stressed the value of shorter-
range tactical aircraft, noting that “once all the tactical air forces are in place and
fully employed — the bomber contribution shrinks to a small portion of the overall
aggregate force.”89 GAO took exception to the Heavy Bomber Force Study, along
with the previous BUR, NPR, and 1992 Bomber Roadmap studies, noting that
DOD’s requirement for 181 bombers is overstated given DOD’s other ground attack
capabilities and the unified commanders in chief plans for using bombers.90 GAO
agreed with DOD’s desire not to procure additional B-2s, but felt a reduction or
elimination of the B-1 fleet was warranted with minimal risk.91
1997 Quadrennial Defense Review
DOD’s 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the first follow-up to the
Bottom-Up Review of 1993, produced no major changes to the recommended
bomber fleet. The QDR recommended sustaining the bomber fleet at 187 aircraft
with 71 B-52Hs, 21 B-2, and keeping all 95 B-1Bs.92 While the QDR acknowledged
that additional B-2s would help the United States in the initial “halt” phase early in
an operation, it was not cost-effective to procure additional B-2s in light of other
pressing needs.93 A congressionally mandated independent bomber review, chaired
by Brent Scowcroft, was highly critical of the 1997 QDR’s decision not to procure
additional B-2s. Unlike the 1996 GAO bomber report calling for bomber aircraft
reductions given, in part, the capabilities of tactical aircraft, Scowcroft’s review
noted the “Pentagon’s preference for short-range instead of long-range air power
raises a puzzling contradiction.”94 Scowcroft notes that the long-range bomber fleet
is ideally suited to the demands of the new security environment and that long-range
air power will be more important than ever in the decades ahead.95 Simply put, the
Scowcroft’s Independent Bomber Force Review’s analysis concluded that “current
plans for the long-range air power force were woefully deficient,” and, at a minimum,
called for Congress to fund at least one additional B-2 squadron (9 aircraft).96
88 Under Secretary of Defense Kaminski’s Congressional testimony, May 17, 1995.
90 Air Force Bombers: Options to Retire or Restructure the Force Would Reduce Planned
Spending, (GAO-96-192) Government Accountability Office, September 1996.
92 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review, Section V: Forces and Manpower, May 1997.
93 Correll, John, T. “The B-2 and Beyond,” Air Force Magazine, July 1998.
94 Brent Scowcroft’s testimony before the Military Procurement Subcommittee of the House
National Security Committee, June 23, 1997.
1999 USAF White Paper on Long-Range Bombers
The 1999 USAF White Paper on Long-Range Bombers modified aircraft
requirements slightly by increasing the B-52 “attrition reserve” by 5 aircraft to
compensate for sustainment issues.97 The new requirement is 76 B-52s, 93 B-1s, and
21 B-2s, with 130 bombers being “combat-coded” for operational taskings.98 More
importantly, this study introduces a replacement aircraft timeline, as requested by
Congress the previous year, calling for a new bomber to reach Initial Operational
Capability (IOC) by 2037.99 However, other than acknowledging the eventual need
for a new bomber aircraft, this study continues the Air Force’s focus on
modifications to its current bomber fleet.
2001 QDR, 2001 Long-Range Strike White Paper
and 2002 NPR
The USAF updated its White Paper on Long-Range Strike following the 2001
QDR. Guidance continued to call for bomber aircraft reductions. The 2001 White
Paper noted a 34-aircraft reduction in “combat-coded” bombers and a total bomber
force of 157 aircraft. To get to this force structure, the paper noted that 33 B-1s and
17 B-52s would be retired by the end of 2002.100 Retirements and other alignments
would result in an overall fleet of 76 B-52s, 60 B-1s, and 21 B-2s. The 96 “combat”
bomber aircraft called for in the USAF White Paper are 16 aircraft less than the 112
“combat-coded” aircraft noted in the 2001 QDR. The Air Force noted that savings
from the retirement of the B-1s would be reinvested in the remaining B-1s. In
addition, the Air Force reiterated that “it is far more cost-effective to upgrade current
bombers than it is to procure new aircraft.”101 Finally, the 2001 White Paper noted
the service life conclusions about the current fleet may no longer be valid because of
operational and force structure changes.102 Noting that B-52s no longer fly regularly
at low-level and that bomber fleet reductions would provide funding for fleet-wide
improvements, the 2001 White Paper might lead some to conclude that requiring a
bomber by 2037 is premature. The 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, while echoing the
requirement for 76 B-52s and 21 B-2s along with the Air Force’s plans for a new
bomber in the 2040 time frame, opined that “a need for additional or improved
bomber capabilities could, however, move the ‘need date’ closer to the present.”103
97 1999 USAF White Paper on Long-Range Bombers, March 1, 1999, p. 2.
98 Two B-1s were lost in accidents since the 1997 QDR. Seventy B-1s, 44 B-52s, and 16 B-
99 1999 USAF White Paper on Long-Range Bombers, March 1, 1999, p. 21. The Report of
the Committee on National Security, House of Representatives, on H.R. 3616 requested the
Air Force to develop a “timeline for consideration of the acquisition of a follow-on bomber.”
100 2001 USAF White Paper on Long-Range Strike, November 2001.
103 2002 Nuclear Posture Review. Excerpt retrieved from Global Security at
[http://www.gl obalsecurity.org/ wmd/library/policy/ dod/npr.htm] .
2006 QDR and the 2007 USAF Long-Range Strike White Paper
DOD’s 2006 QDR provided clearer direction with respect to the future of long-
range strike. The QDR stated:
The Air Force has set a goal of increasing its long-range strike capabilities by
50% and the penetrating component of long-range strike by a factor of five by
The QDR goes on to direct that a new “land-based penetrating long-range strike
capability be fielded by 2018,” along with continued modernization of current
bomber fleet and a reduction in B-52s to 56.105 The Air Force, in turn, announced a
three-phase study to aid in implementation of the QDR’s direction. In testimony
before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Moseley noted phase one would
examine continued modifications and enhancements to the current fleet, while phase
two would add $1.6 billion to aid in development of the 2018 bomber.106 Gen.
Moseley went on to state that around $275 million will be set aside for phase three,
which will examine needs “out beyond 2025 and 2030.”107 The Air Force’s White
Paper goes on to state that the Air Force plans on investing $4.1 billion in legacy
bomber modifications over the 2008-2013 Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP).108
104 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review.
106 Matishak, Martin, “Hunter, Skelton Slam Air Force’s Proposed Plan to Retire B-52s
Early,” Inside the Air Force, March 3, 2006.
108 2007 USAF White Paper on Long-Range Strike, 2007.