Articles

Inside the new Air Force B-21 stealth bomber

The Air Force's 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.


When the Air Force recently revealed its first artist rendering of what its new Long Range Strike – Bomber looks like, service Secretary Deborah James made reference to plans to engineer a bomber able elude detection from even the best, most cutting-edge enemy air defenses.

"Our 5th generation global precision attack platform will give our country a networked sensor shooter capability enabling us to hold targets at risk anywhere in the world in a way that our adversaries have never seen," James said when revealing the image.

James added that the new bomber will be able to "play against the real threats."

The new bomber, called the B-21, will soon be named through a formal naming competition involving members of the Air Force, their families and other participants.

The Air Force has awarded a production contract to Northrop Grumman to engineer and its new bomber. The LRS-B will be a next-generation stealth aircraft designed to introduce new stealth technology and fly alongside - and ultimately replace - the service's existing B-2 bomber.

"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 several months ago.

The service 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 publically 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.

The new aircraft is being engineered to evade increasingly sophisticated air defenses, which now use faster processors, digital networking and sensors to track even stealthy aircraft on a wider range of frequencies at longer ranges.

Stealth Technology

Stealth technology works by engineering an aircraft with external contours and heat signatures designed to elude detection from enemy radar systems.

At the same time, advanced in air defense technologies are also leading developers to look at stealth configurations as merely one arrow in the quiver of techniques which can be employed to elude enemy defenses, particulalry in the case of future fighter aircraft.  New stealthy aircraft will also likely use speed, long-range sensors and manueverability as additional tactics intended to evade enemy air defenses - in addition to stealth because stealth configurations alone will increasingly be more challenged as technology continues to advance.

However, stealth technology is itself advancing - and it is being applied to the B-21 stealth bomber, according to senior Air Force leaders who naturally did not wish to elaborate on the subject.

"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.

Although the new image of LRS-B does look somewhat like the existing B-2, Air Force officials maintain the new bomber's stealth technology will far exceed the capabilities of the B-2.

A B-2 Spirit soars after a refueling mission over the Pacific Ocean. The B-2, from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., is part of a continuous bomber presence in the Asia-Pacific region. | U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III

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.

Prior to awarding the contract to Northrop, the Air Force worked closely with a number of 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 (for the LRS-B) so that we could meet them to execute the mission with mature technologies," Bunch said.

The Long Range Strike-Bomber will be 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.

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.

GEAR & TECH

The F-35 has a fatal flaw that makes it vulnerable to F-22 tech

Lockheed Martin, the leading manufacturer of stealth aircraft in the world, proposed a new hybrid between the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning on April 22, 2018, for Japan to purchase, and it could easily outclass the US Air Force.

Japan has, for decades, wanted in on the US Air Force's F-22, a long-range, high-capacity stealth fighter that perfectly suits its defense needs, except for one problem — the US won't sell it.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
Entertainment

5 of the best 'Schoolhouse Rock!' songs by the jazz legend and veteran who just died

Bob Dorough, the musical keystone of 'Schoolhouse Rock!,' got his start in the Army.

Bob Dorough was a prolific bebop and jazz musician whose popularity and talent earned him spots as a sideman alongside the likes of John Zorn and Miles Davis. But the talented jazzman got his start in music as a pianist, clarinetist, saxophonist, and arranger for the U.S. Army's Special Services Band toward the end of World War II.

He died in Pennsylvania on April 23, 2018, at age 94, NPR reports.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

Lockheed's new laser-guided bomb lives up to its name

Laser-guided bombs have been a mainstay of the United States military for almost 50 years, but they're not without their downsides. Yes, they provide great accuracy, but you need to keep the target painted for maximum effect and bad weather makes laser-guidance less reliable.

Additionally, many laser-guided bombs currently in use, like the Paveway II, have a relatively short range and must be used at high altitude, meaning the plane can't hide from radar. With improved defense systems out there, like the Russian Pantsir, keeping a target painted at close range may spell disaster for a pilot.

Keep reading... Show less

The AF Chief of Staff lays out why space dominance matters

Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein emphasized the essential role airmen have when it comes to space superiority during the 34th Space Symposium, April 17, 2018, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"Our space specialists must be world-class experts in their domain," said Goldfein. "But, every airman, beyond the space specialty, must understand the business of space superiority. And, we must also have a working knowledge of ground maneuver and maritime operations if we are to integrate air, space and cyber operations in a truly seamless joint campaign."

Keep reading... Show less

6 exercises every infantryman needs to master

Serving in the infantry comes with its fair share of hardships, both mental and physical. Rigorous schedules, deployment cycles, and long training hours can be taxing on anyone. Such a demanding lifestyle requires that you be physically fit. After all, your strength and endurance may be the reasons you survive that next, intense firefight.

Now, having served time in the infantry, it's easy for us to look back and see the things we wish we had known before loading that heavy pack on our backs and going on patrol. Invariably, veterans will tell you that they wish they had pushed themselves harder during those long PT sessions.

Keep reading... Show less

Behind the scenes of the Trump-Macron bromance

French president Emmanuel Macron arrived April 23, 2018, as the first world leader President Donald Trump invited for a state visit.

Friendship bloomed between the two leaders in the year since Macron's election victory, including dinner at the Eiffel Tower, an epic handshake battle, and publicly gushing about each other.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

6 things not to do while getting an Article 15

For better or worse, non-judicial punishment (NJP) is exactly what the name implies. As authorized by Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a commander may discipline their troop without the need for a court-martial.

On the one hand, a commander is keeping things at the lowest level possible and punishments can only be so extreme (depending on the type of NJP, of course). On the other, due process is sidestepped and the judge, jury, and executioner is a single person.

Keep reading... Show less