Air Force Official: Future Long-Range Strike Bomber ‘Essential to Warfare’
The need for a new long-range strike bomber in the Air Force’s inventory is imperative, said the commander of the service’s Global Strike Command on Oct. 9.
“The long-range strike bomber is absolutely essential to warfare in the future,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson during a speech hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in Arlington, Virginia.
The LRS-B, which has largely been shrouded in secrecy, will include new enhanced capabilities when procured, Wilson said.
“The characteristics that I think will be fundamental for success in the future certainly will be speed, range, stealth and payload. Those are all inherent in bombers and certainly with the new bomber and the future of the LRS-B,” he said.
He noted that while the Air Force is looking at increasing the speed of the aircraft, its top speed might remain on par with that of the legacy fleet.
Like the service’s other bombers, the LRS-B will also be able to carry nuclear weapons, Wilson said.
The new LRS-B is one of three top Air Force acquisition priorities, Wilson said. The other two include the F-35 joint strike fighter and the KC-46A tanker.
Wilson said he wants to acquire at least 100 of the new bombers.
“We are going to have to be able to buy them in sufficient quantities and numbers,” Wilson said. “We as a nation cannot do what we did with the B-2. The B-2 was an amazing airplane, is an amazing airplane. We just didn’t buy enough of them.”
The Air Force initially wanted to purchase 132 B-2 bombers, but pared the fleet down to 21 because of costs.
Wilson said that fielding such advanced technology as the LRS-B is critical as the nation faces new threats.
“Because of the changing strategic landscape, because of the world dynamics, because of the financial situation that we’re in, there is a sense of urgency. There is a sense of urgency that says, ‘I’ve got to do things differently. I’ve got to be smart with the money that I have to make sure that our Air Force can continue to dominate in airspace and cyber for the foreseeable future,’” he said.
Over the last few months the United States’ strategy has changed substantially, he said.
“I don’t think anybody in this room five months ago was talking about Crimea. We certainly weren’t talking about ISIS and ISIL. We weren’t talking about Ebola. There’s a lot of things that happened just in the last five months that we’ve have got to be able to react faster [to], ” he said.
A request for proposals was released in July, and a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team and Northrop Grumman are expected to engage in a fierce competition for the contract.
The Air Force wants the bombers to cost $550 million per unit and is planning to award a contract in spring 2015. Initially capability is planned for the mid-2020s.
Wilson pointed to Steve Jobs — who through innovative technology, took Apple from the brink of bankruptcy to one of the most successful publicly traded companies in history — as inspiration for a better and faster way to procure equipment in the military.
“How do we then within our DoD do that same thing type of thing?” Wilson asked. “In terms of the regulations and requirements, sometimes they’re really onerous … [and] take 12 years to get an idea … to the field. We’ve got to be able to change that.”
Wilson said inspiration could also be taken from Air Force Special Operations Command.
Last year, Wilson visited AFSOC and learned that it had put a new radar-targeting pod and a small diameter bomb with a laser seeker on a C-130. It took AFSOC only five months to go from an idea to actually flying the equipment, Wilson said.
“I thought [that] was pretty amazing. So I came back to my headquarters, I sent my team to AFSOC and I said, ‘Figure out how they did that. I want to be like them … to be able to bring capability rapidly, quickly to existing airplanes,’” he said. In about four months, Global Strike Command demonstrated the same targeting pod on a B-52, Wilson added.