Rationale for Strategic Bomber Development

April 1, 1982

In September 1980, the Ninety-sixth Congress directed the Department of Defense to pursue vigorously full-scale engineering development of a strategic multirole bomber, maximizing range, payload, and ability to perform the missions of conventional bomber, cruise-missile launch platform, and nuclear weapons delivery system in both the tactical and strategic roles. Congress also directed an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) as soon as practicable, but no later than 1987.

In response to this mandate, the Air Force worked closely with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on a joint study to compare the merits of various bomber modernization alternatives.

Concept of a Mixed Force

During the course of this analysis, the Air Force strongly supported the concept of a mixed force of manned penetrating aircraft and air-launched cruise missiles, for we are confident that such a force applies maximum stress on Soviet air defenses. For this reason, we gave high marks to those alternatives that simultaneously improved both these capabilities.

On October 2, 1981, President Reagan announced his long-awaited comprehensive plan for revitalizing our strategic deterrent forces and for restoring a margin of safety in the strategic balance of power. With regard to bomber force modernization, Mr. Reagan’s program calls for:

  • Modifying newer B-52s (G and H models) to carry cruise missiles and modernizing selected B-52 aircraft to enhance their resistance to the effects of nuclear explosions as well as to improve their ability to survive Soviet defenses.
  • Retiring older B-52 (D models) starting in 1982.
  • Constructing and deploying some 100 B-1B bombers, a variant of the original B-1 design, with an Initial Operating Capability in 1986.
  • Procuring and deploying some 3,000 cruise missiles on B-52Gs, B-52Hs, and B-1Bs.
  • Pursuing a vigorous program to develop an advanced technology bomber (ATB) with Stealth characteristics to be deployed in the 1990s.
  • Reengining the existing KC-135 aerial tankers to provide increased airborne refueling capabilities.

This program is totally consistent with the Air Force recommendations resulting from the earlier study efforts—recommendations that were carefully formulated to permit needed modernization while at the same time ensuring necessary affordability.

Two Areas of Cost Avoidance

There are two major areas of cost avoidance associated with the proposed bomber program that are not generally recognized. First, were we to follow original plans and place almost total reliance on our aging B-52 force out to the year 2000, then the cost of this effort, including modifications for cruise-missile carriage and essential improvements, would have exceeded the entire cost of the B-1 program. Second, if we were to follow this course, we would still have eventually been faced with the need to develop and produce a new cruise-missile carrier aircraft to replace the B-52s. the cost of this program alone would again exceed the cost of the proposed B-1 effort.

However, introduction of the more capable B-1B and a follow-on ATB aircraft reduces the ultimate reliance we will have to place on the B-52s as well as the size of the required cruise-missile force. Therefore, we intend to modify only those B-52s required to carry sufficient numbers of these missiles. These reduced modification and procurement requirements, the eventual phaseout of the G and H forces, as well as the programmed retirement of the B-52Ds, results in significant cost avoidance, which goes a long way toward offsetting the burdens of critically needed force improvements.

Features of the B-1B

The B-1B itself will be a much more efficient and capable version of the original B-1. Improvements include simplifications in the airframe and propulsion systems resulting from the decision to use the aircraft primarily as a subsonic bomber. Other additions include a cruise-missile carriage capability, a much improved defensive avionics system capable of countering the most advanced Soviet radars, as well as a much lower radar cross section resulting from application of advanced “Stealth” techniques.

Overall, the new B-1B will represent a significant and long-term addition to our strategic forces. Most importantly, it will provide the necessary additional force during a period when the US must depend heavily on bombers while we take the proper steps to strengthen our land-based missiles. We are confident the aircraft will be able to penetrate well into the 1990s; and later, when the B-51’s ability as a cruise-missile carrier becomes questionable, and as new ATBs begin to enter the force in numbers, the B-1Bs can be used to shoulder a greater share of the cruise-missile carriage mission, eventually replacing the B-52 in this role. The B-1B will then serve as a standoff cruise-missile carrier and conventional bomber well into the next century.

Orderly Development of the ATB

This time-phased modernization program provides the breathing room necessary to pursue the orderly development of an advanced technology bomber. Concentrating solely on the development of an ATB would be a risky course to follow. The ATB is now in the very early stages of design and concept development. At this time, it is basically a “paper design.” The technologies involved are exciting and promising, but because of the major advances required in several technologies and the consequence uncertainties involved, there would be a high degree of program risk in concentrating solely on an ATB. For these reasons and others, a significant acceleration of this program simply does not appear to be either prudent or feasible.

In summary, the Air Force wholeheartedly endorses President Reagan’s decisions regarding bomber force modernization. The program satisfies the congressional mandate contained in the FY ’81 Authorization Act to field a new bomber not later than 1987; it is consistent with the preferred Air Force strategy of a mixed bomber force; it provides needed modernization at an affordable price; and it offers the important ancillary benefits of stimulating competition and giving the Defense Department the flexibility, by time-phasing the introduction of two new aircraft, to adjust procurement in accordance with changes in estimates of cost, availability, and effectiveness.

Maj. Gen. Robert D. Russ has been Director of Operational Requirements in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Research, Development, and Acquisition since November 1979. Commissioned through AFROTC at Washington State University, he flew F-84F, F-100, F-101, and F-4C fighters in operational units. He commanded the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., before serving with TAC headquarters and the Air Staff.