by Kris Osborn
Bomber, or LRS-B, a next-generation stealth aircraft designed to introduce new stealth technology and fly alongside, and ultimately replace, the service’s existing B-2 bomber.
The Air Force’s new stealthy long-range bomber will have the endurance and next-generation stealth capability to elude the most advanced existing air defenses and attack anywhere in the world, if needed, senior service officials said.
“With LRS-B, I can take off from the continental United States and fly for a very long way. I don’t have to worry about getting permission to land at another base and worry about having somebody try to target the aircraft. It will provide a long-reach capability,” Lt. Gen. Bunch, Air Force Military Deputy for Acquisition, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Tervice plans to field the new bomber by the mid-2020s.
The Air Force plans to acquire as many as 80 to 100 new bombers for a price of roughly $550 million per plane in 2010 dollars, Air Force leaders have said.
Although there is not much publicly available information when it comes to stealth technology, industry sources have explained that the LRS-B is being designed to elude the world’s most advanced radar systems.
For instance, lower-frequency surveillance radar allows enemy air defenses to know that an aircraft is in the vicinity, and higher-frequency engagement radar
allows integrated air defenses to target a fast-moving aircraft. The concept with the new bomber is to engineer a next-generation stealth configuration able to evade both surveillance and engagement radar technologies.
The idea is to design a bomber able to fly, operate and strike anywhere in the world without an enemy even knowing an aircraft is there. This was the intention of the original B-2 bomber, which functioned in that capacity for many years, until technological advances in air defense made it harder for it to avoid detection completely.
At the same time, the B-2 is being upgraded with a new technology called Defensive Management System, a system which better enables the B-2 to know the location of enemy air defenses.
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Over the last two to three years, the Air Force has worked closely with defense companies as part of a classified research and technology phase. So far, the service has made a $1 billion technology investment in the bomber.
“We've set the requirements, and we’ve locked them down. We set those requirements so that we could meet them to execute the mission with mature technologies,” Bunch said.
Long Range Strike is built upon what the Air Force calls an “open systems architecture,” an engineering technique which designs the platform in a way that allows it to quickly integrate new technologies as they emerge.
“We’re building this with an open mission systems architecture. As technology advances and the threat changes, we can build upon the structure. I can take one component out and put another component in that addresses the threat. I have the ability to grow the platform,” Bunch explained.
In the competition, Northrop Grumman was up against a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the rights to build the bomber. Earlier this year, Northrop Grumman ran a regional Super Bowl ad pitching the company’s experience building Air Force bombers.
Air Force leaders have said the aircraft will likely be engineered to fly unmanned missions as well as manned missions.
The new aircraft will be designed to have global reach, in part by incorporating a large arsenal of long-range weapons. The LRS-B is being engineered to carry existing weapons as well as nuclear bombs and emerging and future weapons, Air Force officials explained.
“We're going to have a system that will be able to evolve for the future. It will give national decision authorities a resource that they will be able to use if needed to hold any target that we need to prosecute at risk,” Bunch said.
Also, the aircraft is being engineered to evade increasingly sophisticated air defenses, which now use faster processors and sensors to track even stealthy aircraft at longer ranges.
“As the threat evolves we will be able to evolve the airplane and we will still be able to hold any target at risk” Bunch said.