A Lighter, Longer Reaching Bomber

While a great amount of speculation remains about the Air Force’s next bomber, Barry Watts, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, thinks the design that will emerge will be a far-reaching strike platform with less payload capacity than the B-2A. In remarks to reporters Feb. 3 in Washington, D.C., on the findings of his new bomber study, in which he notes 2020 as a more likely fielding date than the current 2018 goal, Watts said advances in precision weapons have made it possible for long-range bombers to carry a leaner payload. “Most of the people I’ve talked to … in and around the aircraft design business kind of think a 15,000-pound to 20,000-pound payload probably would suffice for this bomber,” he said. (The B-2, by comparison, can carry up to 40,000 pounds of ordnance.) As a result, the new bomber would be comparatively smaller and have two engines instead of four, like on the B-2, thereby increasing its low-observability characteristics and incorporating fuel efficiencies in the design for a wider operating radius, he said. The amount of nuclear hardening built into the design would depend on what the Air Force wants the bomber to withstand, he said.