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  • CSBA Enters The Bomber Fray
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 1:39 PM on Sep 15, 2010

    Leading the Pentagon's own "family of systems" study of long-range strike options by a few weeks, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments released its own long range strike report on Tuesday on Capitol Hill (full report and briefing).

    Given the CSBA's long-running enthusiasm for long-distance airpower, it is not surprising that it comes down heavily in favor of a family-of-systems concept that has a new ISR/bomber aircraft as its centerpiece. However, it is probably even more pro-bomber than some would have expected, highlighting the flexibility of a large aircraft and the desirability of proceeding as soon as possible.

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    The study's lead author, Mark Gunzinger, said Tuesday that there were two main surprises that popped out of the work done by CSBA. The first was the importance of the strategic "framework" to long-range strike studies. Most earlier studies have been based on a post Cold War framework in which regional bases are available, carriers are secure and there is no challenge to space. But, he says, "our competitors have gone to school on the American way of warfare" and as a result, in future conflicts, carriers will be held 1000 nm off the coast and land bases will be pushed back.

    The second surprise was that Gunzinger and other CSBA contributors expected the bomber analysis to revolve around classic choices: manned/unmanned, standoff/penetrator, or the degree of stealth. "In some cases these were false choices and in other cases there was no choice necessary," Gunzinger says.

    For example, making the vehicle optionally piloted carried a negligible penalty in weight and performance over making it unmanned, while sharply reducing risk and hedging against the loss of communications due to jamming. Building the aircraft with basic nuclear hardening provisions adds something to research and development and manufacturing costs, but is far cheaper than retrofitting those features later.

    Between the lines, it is apparent that the CSBA expects improvements in stealth technology, both in signatures and operability. The B-2 is expected to lose its ability to penetrate, although it is "more survivable today than when it rolled off the line", Gunzinger says, adding that he is "very confident" that stealth technology can deliver both survivability and supportability.

    Sizing the bomber is still a controversial area, which revolves to some extent around the Massive Ordnance Penetrator weapon. CSBA did not set MOP carriage as a standard and asked industry whether it was feasible to develop a 5000-8000 pound weapon with equal effectiveness to MOP. The answer was positive, and CSBA found economic advantages to a 20,000-pound-payload aircraft:

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    Note, by the way, that these are comprehensive program costs, not flyaway numbers.

    An all-cruise-missile solution emerges as more costly than the bomber if there are 20 days of conflict in the 30-year service life of the system - and also does not deliver other advantages such as hard-target attack and an ISR role. The CSBA recommends the development of a new cruise missile sized for fighter platforms as well as ships and submarines, and suggests that (eventually) the B-1 and B-52 could be replaced by a derivative of the new bomber.

    The report also favors a Navy UCAV, but recommends that the service develop an X-47-type aircraft with at least the potential for long range and all-aspect, broadband LO, rather than going for an initial system designed for less-threatening environments. However, the CSBA also notes that the UCAV will not be able to penetrate as deeply, or persist as long, as the longer-range bomber.

    The notional bomber seen in the CSBA's paper is Boeing-influenced, with the same planform as the model that Boeing has shown for a couple of years, and using many existing components:  the B-2's radar, unmodified F-35 engines, and avionics and systems from F-35, F-15 and F/A-18E/F.

    Tags: ar99, afa10, tacair, bomber, ucav, unmanned

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