Northrop Grumman's Analysis Center, the company's private think-tank, has issued two new position papers, one dealing with the Next Generation Bomber (NGB) or Next Generation Long Range Strike (NGLRS) system, and the other with the US requirement for Global Hawk UAVs.
Both are worthwhile reading, and in a presentation earlier today, author Michael Isherwood added some interesting points to the published paper. We'll focus on the bomber paper here.
On the bomber, Isherwood started with an important observation: that the availability of real-time information in the cockpit makes a huge difference to the value of the bomber. Under 1991 Desert Storm conditions, where nearly all sorties were flown against pre-planned targets, a bomber is powerful but inflexible - its lower sortie rate counts against it and it's harder to plan missions that use its heavy weapon load. But in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, 84 per cent of targets were passed to the aircrew in flight - and that makes a long-endurance, survivable aircraft with a large payload much more useful.
The USAF needs the aircraft because fighters can't handle enough targets to meet the campaign's needs, Northrop Grumman argues. If air defenses close the airspace to non-stealthy attack aircraft, if the F-22 is confined to air-dominance operations and offensive action pushes bases further away from the target, the F-35 - with two 2,000-pound bombs and limited range - can't hit enough targets. The bomber carries seven times that offensive load.
As I speculated in the most recent DTI, a defensive directed energy (DE) weapon is very much on Northrop Grumman's mind. Today's laser-based infra-red countermeasures (IRCM) systems can blind an IR-homing missile; tomorrow's DE weapons will be powerful enough to negate a radar-guided missile, Isherwood says, permitting daytime operations by a large subsonic aircraft.
The same system could be one of a number of "non-kinetic" weapon options for the NGLRS. Although the paper suggests that today's F-22 and F-35 radars would be the basis for the bomber radar, it would have larger antennas, more modules and more power. (Not mentioned - and to be covered in the next DTI - is the emerging potential of broadband AESAs.) As cyber-attacks, information warfare and other extensions of traditional jamming emerge, the bomber will be well placed to take advantage of them.
The paper makes the point that a manned bomber presents fewer development challenges than an unmanned aircraft - as Isherwood points out, there are show-stopper issues such as the ability to operate in national airspace that still must be solved before an unmanned bomber can be contemplated. But, he added, "we expect an unmanned version will appear, maybe as Block 30. We're talking about Block 10 here."
The report mentions a notional force of 100 new bombers supporting five 16-airplane squadrons and operating - for some time - alongside at least some of the existing bomber fleet. It also appears to lean on the big side of the USAF's NGB requirement, talking about a 28,000 pound weapon load and a 2500 nm operational radius. (That compares with 3000 nm and some 40,000 pounds for the B-2.)
What the report doesn't say is how many fighters would be eliminated from USAF planning to pay for the NGB. But it does include this chart showing how the deployment of three new bomber squadrons would affect a battle plan in the Pacific:
In this scenario, the USAF fields just under half as many F-35s with the new bomber, and the Navy operates with one carrier-load of fighters rather than two.
Also, and quite unsurprisingly, no mention was made of any Northrop Grumman work on a bomber prototype.