February 17, 2012David
For anyone familiar with the inventory of the United States Air Force, you have to be wondering what the Air Force is doing with their bomber fleet. The B-52 is on track to become the first 100 year airframe, the B-1B is slowly being removed from service as maintenance costs increase and its identity is forced to change. The B-2 is a phenomenal airframe but its extremely high price of $2.2 billion is just not realistic in the long-term.
There have been rumors of the development of a new bomber for quite some time because of the impending retirement of these aging bombers. This new bomber is now being put on the fast track by the DOD according to DoD Comptroller Bob Hale who spoke at an Aviation Week-sponsored event in Arlington, VA.
The new bomber, known as the Long Range Strike Aircraft, will hopefully be ready for initial operations in 2020, though I would not hold my breath. Based upon the timeline for the F-35 and the new tanker that is currently in the process of coming on-line, eight years just seems way too short.
Personally, I would love to see a new bomber come into service in 2020 because by that time I would be at a point in my Air Force career that I would have enough experience in my airframe to maybe switch over and be part of something new and exciting. But beyond my selfish desires, I just don’t see it happening this fast.
The Air Force has set aside about $300 million in their 2013 budget to aid in development which is definitely a step in the right direction. They also plan to use a lot of existing technology which will greatly reduce research and development time. Hopefully, the biggest incentive to work quickly is the advanced age of the current fleet.
The three current bombers are fulfilling their mission admirably and they will continue to do so backed by the best maintainers in the world for as long as they are asked to do so. But as the costs continue to increase, a solution must be found in the form of replacement aircraft that will not require such intensive maintenance as the B-1, and will not carry such a hefty price tag as the B-2.
The estimated cost of the new bomber is approximately $550 million per aircraft with an expected fleet of 100 aircraft. The plane will fulfill the roles of the B-1 and B-2 using stealth technology, evading advanced aerial defense systems, as well as fulfilling a nuclear mission.
Either way we are at least a decade away from seeing this aircraft being used on a regular basis, but it is exciting to see that it has become a high priority. Hopefully, the process will be much faster than other recent development projects so that we will be able to reap the benefits that much sooner.