An artist's concept for a stealthy future Long-Range Strike Bomber.

An artist’s concept for a stealthy future Long-Range Strike Bomber.

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, FLORIDA: Even as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel flew here with much fanfare to reaffirm his “strong, strong confidence” in the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Air Force quietly let slip they have started a competition for the Long-Range Strike Bomber. The two programs could hardly be more different. JSF is the military’s massive investment – its over-investment, critics argue – in replacing its aging fleet of short-ranged but flexible fighters. LRS-B involves a much smaller number of much larger planes with the bomb load, range, and stealth to revive the long-neglected long-range bomber force.

This summer was supposed to be the F-35′s high-profile international debut. But with the fleet grounded by a recent engine fire, the stealth fighter is certain to miss what was to have been its first foreign appearance, at tomorrow’s Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in Britain. Reporters here peppered Sec. Hagel with questions whether the F-35 would make it to the subsequent airshow at Farnborough. Hagel resolutely refused to answer, saying safety was the overriding priority and he’d leave decisions on the aircraft’s return to flight to “the experts” and their ongoing investigations.

By contrast, the Long-Range Strike Bomber is evolving deep in secrecy. In fact, now that the Air Force has launched a competition with yesterday’s formal Request For Proposals (even the due date for proposals is secret), it’s promised to say even less. That’s impressive considering (as my colleague Colin Clark pointed out recently) that the Air Force has released almost no new information about the LRS-B since 2012. The Long-Range Strike Bomber is supposed to be stealthy, like the current batwinged B-2, but faster and significantly cheaper, at $550 million per system. We have to say “system” instead of “plane” because the LRS-B may actually be a collective of several aircraft, manned and unmanned, networked together into a single tactical unit.

Congressional Research Service analyst Jeremiah Gertler looked at planned funding trendlines in a recent report and inferred the Air Force must have already done most of the development work on the bomber already, even building prototypes, in the classified “black” budget. If true, that could make the yesterday’s RFP largely a formality rather than a real competition. But we simply don’t know.

Comments

  • originalone

    What ever happened to the R & D departments of the arms merchants? And why can’t these same merchants get things right to begin with? Is it because they have scattered the suppliers all over the country in order to keep the $$$$ coming in, charging $$$ more every time someone uses the “john”, all on the backs of the dwindling taxpayers back. Just where do they think the money comes from, the “tooth fairy”? Perhaps it’s time to realign the 3 services, the Air Force can have their bombers, the Navy can have their boats, the Marines can have the combat air craft. Sure would simplify as well as contain the costs too.

    • EdChombeau

      LMAO–what a loon.

    • Stevan Fagan

      are you nut’s or just playing to many first shooter games online,

  • originalone

    To Steven & Ed, Steven first, I’m too old to be playing video games, that’s for those of you youngsters still playing games, as in games people play. Ed, your words describe yourself, as well as your life. So, to the both of you, you got your reply, but no more, so go play with someone else.

  • Roger Roger

    This news undoubtedly is causing great concern in Beijing and Moscow. Just when they thought they had us over the” wait till we get this” ( DF 21, PAK FA, J 20 etc,etc ) barrel. We pull another rabbit out of the hat ( Area 51 ). Another networked attack plane. I can’t imagine, nor should we speculate too much, what all you can do to @#$& someone up with a fleet of stealth bombers, fighter bombers, stealth cruise missiles, Aegis ships and subs all networked together. ” You don’t actually think they spend $20,000 on a hammer, $30,000 on a toilet seat, do you?” Or 140 million on a stealth fighter ! Do you ?