22 Jun 2020
The U.S.A.F.’s future bomber force may affect response times in supporting strike missions for U.S.M.C.’s Force Design 2030 and the U.S. Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations
“…we’ve said publicly that we think we need 220 bombers overall—75 B-52s and the rest B-21s, longterm.”
The United States Air Force’s (U.S.A.F.) conventional B-1Bs and B-52s heavy bombers, B-2 “Spirit” Stealth bombers, and the upcoming B-21 “Raider” Stealth bombers have inherent weaknesses that they can’t solve in the future. In this Opinion-Editorial, Peter Ong looks at how new-designed Heavy Seaplanes and Sustained Supersonic Bombers could be innovative solutions to address the current lack of presence and the lack of bomber speed.
In the future, the problem with the U.S.A.F. Bomber Inventory Plan is that the U.S.A.F. bombers may lack presence and deployable speed around the globe in the age of newly fielded Hypersonic and high Mach-speed supersonic anti-ship, anti-air, cruise, and land attack missiles.
The U.S.A.F. isn’t innovative enough for the future bomber force comprising of B-2 “Spirit” stealth bombers, B-52 “Stratofortresses,” B-1 “Lancer” supersonic bombers, and the new B-21 “Raider” stealth bombers. Such a U.S.A.F. bomber force in the 2020s and beyond is respected and worthy and would accomplish its missions, respectably, but if peer nations build their own modernized or new bomber force, even U.S.A.F. stealth technology and possessing superior electronics warfare and sensors might not excel over the enemy bombers’ technical specifications, creating near-parity between the two nations’ air forces in terms of bomber capabilities. With the planned retirement of the B-2As, the future U.S.A.F. bomber force will consist of B-1Bs, B-52s, and B-21s, all modernized and modified for peer nation conflicts. The two issues facing the U.S.A.F. Bomber Force in the 2020s and beyond are the lack of continuous global dominating presence and the lack of high speed for a quick global response.
Presence…without continuous rotating bomber basing overseas such as shifts in Guam and Diego Garcia, the U.S.A.F.lacks a continuous threatening bomber presence at the doorstep of nations threatening U.S. National Security.
Without forward-deployed rotational bomber basing, B-1Bs had to fly super long-range, long endurance missions to the Pacific and European theaters from the United States for maritime strike training:
This lack of forward bomber basing could be remedied to various degrees by U.S.A.F. or U.S. Marine Corps military cargo planes carrying pallets of JASSM-Extended Range (ER) missiles, a 1,000 nautical-mile guided cruise missile that could offer a potential solution in supporting U.S. naval combat operations. Pushed out the open rear ramp, bundles of JASSM-ERs could fall and then ignite their subsonic engines to take flight towards separate targets far from effective enemy air defenses.
This “Cargo plane Cruise Missile Truck” concept does have logistical limitations as the cargo planes would often be taxed and in high demand to transport vital supplies and troops during missions, but the “Cruise Missile Truck Concept” would definitely expand and enhance Distributed Lethality operations for the U.S. Navy and increase bomber presence in any region. However, the Lockheed JASSM-ER cruise missile is not cheap, costing FY15 $1.359 million dollars each, respectively, so each JASSM-ER would be mostly used against high-value targets and ostensibly each cargo plane carrying JASSM-ERs would need a decent protective fighter escort.
Another possible solution would be for the U.S.A.F. or the U.S. Navy to build Heavy Seaplane Bombers with either Vertical Short-Takeoff and Landing tilt-rotor, efficiently powerful turboprop propellers, tail push propellers, or roof intake jet engines with sea spray and saltwater corrosion protection. Heavy Seaplane Bombers aren’t meant to carry extremely large bomb loads as their land-based counterparts, but they would act as a constant and continuous threat to peer nations’ coastal and littoral areas, Anti-Access Area Denial (A2AD) Island Chains, military and trade shipping, and prevent further peer nation sea expansion and island conquering. Weapons such as air-to-air, miniature armed drones, and small anti-ship and anti-tank self-defense missiles could be mounted on the wing pylons in enclosed weapon pods (similar to the F-18E/F’s)or internal Conventional Rotary Launchers to protect the ordnance from sea spray and saltwater corrosion.
Seaplane Bombers could also be modified by other Armed Service Branches for Search and Rescue and special operations forces as cargo planes with the addition of a floodable stern ramp. Modified Heavy non-bomber Seaplanes could also act as amphibious carriers for inflatable boats, jetskis, and small craft delivering Marines, or as overseas long-endurance “flying ships”Fisheries Patrol Seaplanes for the U.S. Coast Guard to patrol A2AD-contested waters.
The advent of advanced tilt-rotor propeller engines, push propellers, top-mounted engines, stealth shaping, and composite structures ensure that Seaplanes of the future will not be as slow, or easily detectable, or as vulnerable as in World War Two (WW2). The U.S.A. has vast experiences with WW2 Seaplanes and building airframes that last; therefore, Seaplane Bombers, made stronger, faster, and larger, could be the U.S.A.F.’s or U.S. Navy’s 9-1-1 Flying Force for the future, always ready and always present by flying and landing on the oceans where they will be guarded with self-defense missiles and carbine-armed loadmasters aboard when bobbing on the waves before takeoff, distributed around the oceans from vulnerable fixed land Air Force bases.
An example of a Seaplane design is the Japanese ShinMaywa US-2 large short takeoff and landing (STOL) amphibious aircraft. With a maximum speed of 350 miles(220 knots), and a range of 2,900 miles(810 nmi), the ShinMaywa US-2 has a crew of eleven and can carry twenty passengers or twelve stretchers. Modified internally for missile launch and strike missions, this Seaplane example could act as a patrol bomber on rotation situated around the world’s oceans, carrying all sorts of internal and external ordnance and Command, Control, Computer, Cyber, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) sensors.
The Heavy Seaplane Bomber envisioned in this Naval News Op-Ed would not be an armed ground-effect “hovering and flying above the wavetops” Ekroanoplan such as the Russian A-90 Orlyonok in which only four were built. The Orlyonok has a speed of 250 mph (220 knots), a range of 930 miles (810 nmi), and a service ceiling of 9.800 feet (3,000 meters). Compare that with the Japanese ShinMaywa US-2 large STOL amphibious aircraft with a maximum speed of 350 miles (300 kn), a range of 2,900 miles, and a service ceiling of 23,606 feet (7,195 meters) and the Seaplane Bomber seems to be the more logical choice.
Issue #2: Lack of Speed, A Bomber Force Too Slow to Arrive to Respond and Fight
“The aperture is still open to looking at better ideas—and more ideas [for an Arsenal Plane besides the B-52]. I believe we should really press into that. You like to have multiple ways to get to the right long-range strike volume. And if you can find a more affordable path, then we should look at that.“
The other outstanding U.S.A.F. Bomber Force 2020-2030s issue is that the bombers will be too slow to deploy and reach weapons’ release areas, flying at subsonic speeds in an era of enemy Hypersonic missiles, tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and high Mach-speed supersonic missiles that can be launched by enemy submarines, surface ships, bombers, and Transporter Erector Launchers. Vital components of the U.S. National Command and Military Commands might be attacked and destroyed before any adequate U.S.A.F.bomber force could fly to the destinations to launch an armed response, even if equipped with Hypersonic weapons. Subsonic B-52s and stealthy B-21s might be deemed too slow to fly to targets whereas supersonic B-1Bs would be aging out and retired. A new and faster sustained supersonic speed heavy bomber is required.
Unless the U.S.A.F. intends to modify the future highly-unconfirmed Lockheed Martin high-supersonic SR-72 spy plane into a high-altitude bomber, the U.S.A.F. would best be served with a new supersonic bomber based on NASA’s X-59 QueSST Low-Boom supersonic plane design that can fly at supersonic speeds without generating a loud supersonic boom on land. Such a precious Low-Boom supersonic bomber can fly from the Continental United States (CONUS) at sustained supercruising supersonic speeds without the damaging and ear-splitting trailing sonic wake.
Sustained supercruising supersonic speed is vital for Global Rapid Strike response to threats and attacks against American interests and if the new bomber needs to perform Close Air Support (CAS) for pinned soldiers on the ground. Neither the B-52 or B-21 can achieve supersonic flight and many B-1Bs are considered overused and fatigued due to supersonic flights during the Global War on Terror where low supersonic passes might have prematurely aged the airframes.
Low-Boom supercruising supersonic bombers will be the answer to future wars, able to fly fast over NATO territory without damaging infrastructure and disturbing the neighbors and the civilians below. With a speed of at least Mach 1 to Mach 1.8 sustained, a Low-Boom supersonic stealthy-shaped bomber devoid of most high-maintenance stealth coatings and equipped with fuel-efficient supercruising engines would be vital to the U.S.A.’s National Security Interests and would carry long-range Hypersonic, anti-ship,anti-satellite, and cruise missiles, and could act as an “Arsenal Plane” to match the speed of the supersonic F-15EXs, F-16s, F-18s, F-22s, and F-35s.
Such sustained Mach-speed would ensure a constant threat to any enemy-launched supersonic and Hypersonic missile attack, able to reach areas of the world quickly with minimal aerial refueling. Recall, the X-59’s design is only to prevent the loud supersonic boom, and once supersonic, this new supercruising supersonic bomber should have a maneuverability that prevents it from being just a flying dart, dashing in and out, but could fly around radar and enemy threats.
Naval News reported on B-52 bombers operating in maritime strike training missions in support of the U.S. Navy Pacific operations. A single B-52 can potentially carry 20 LRASMs whereas a B-1B can carry 24 LRASMs.
A B-52 flies at a maximum speed of 650 mph (564 kts) while a B-1B flies at maximum speed of 830+ mph (721 kts) with a dash speed of 900+ mph (782 kts, or Mach 1.25). Normally, a B-52’s cruising speed would be 525 mph (456 kts). Therefore, a newly-designed Low-Boom supersonic bomber flying at a sustained supercrusing speed of Mach 1.2 would be 375 mph faster than a B-52’s cruising speed, and the faster speed might prove vital in getting to the designated bombing area in the coming era of Hypersonic, ramjet, and supersonic missiles, not to mention a Low-Boom supercrusing supersonic bomber would have a much lower radar cross-section than a B-52.
This supersonic “Arsenal Plane,” carrying nuclear or conventional bomb loads,might be even more vital than the subsonic B-52 “Arsenal Plane” and B-21 stealth bomber in developing new tactics for the U.S.A.F.’s future. The U.S.A.F. should quickly develop a Low-Boom supersonic bomber with supercruising engines as soon as possible to meet peer nations and perform Global Rapid Strike response.
A Tandem-force of U.S.A.F. Seaplanes and Low-Boom Supersonic Bombers
The U.S.A.F. needs to innovate by taking greater risks to meet future peer nation threats and challenges or risk being entrenched with an upgraded Legacy Force that is too slow, inflexible to forward deploy, and is too stealth-coating high-maintenance, costly, and Top Secret to meet tomorrow’s U.S. National Security issues. The U.S.A. needs bombers adaptable to Distributed Lethality and Distributed Maritime Operations of the U.S. Navy and to support U.S.M.C. Force Design 2030 doctrine. Combined, the U.S.A.F.’s Heavy Seaplane Bomber and Low-Boom supercruising engines supersonic bomber can achieve dominating U.S.A.F. bomber presence without rotating bombers at fixed U.S.A.F. bases around the world that are vulnerable to enemy ballistic, supersonic and Hypersonic, long-range naval gunfire, and cruise missile attacks. The existing B-1, B-52, and B-21 conventional and stealth bombers could act as the follow-on force, feint, or pincer-movement and present even more variations for vectoring a layered or wave bomber attack in accordance to the Pentagon’s future battle plans.
Op-Ed – Two Problems and Potential Solutions to the USAF’s Future … – Naval News
22 Jun 2020