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25 January 2008


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Sydney Freedberg

The argument, as I understand it, is about range: yes, the "fighters" are all in fact fighter-bombers, but they cannot hit targets 1,000 miles away, let alone 2,000, without mid-air refueling -- which is accomplished by slow, unstealthy tankers that are vulnerable to all sorts of relatively low-tech foes. If you are serious about projecting airpower deep into Eurasia, and you are less than confident about the kind of bases you will have on the continent, then you need to think about bombers.

An article of mine on the subject is at http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0807/081507nj1.htm


another new manned bomber? sure, how 'bout a C-130 or 737...


This is exactly the same reason why they pay for that overpriced, but utterly useless F-22. In the meantime when real war broke out, we are short on low cost and simple UAV.

Why do we need a long range heavy bomber when any long range heavy UAV can be loaded with standard cruise missiles?

These UAVs can fly few days continuously above radar/standard defense system. Low profile, low cost, and gets the job done. (but there is no money in it)

How about that useless but extremely expensive humvee and LAV? cute toys for the generals. It doesn't even survive basic IED.

But hey, gotta prop up Boeing,GD and Carlyle stock somehow.


It is called military keynesianism.

Richard Whitman

I can forsee the day that some LDC develops an inexpensive UAV similar to Tata's $2500 car, builds them by the thousand and gets college students and computer gamers to control them. Thats the way to disrupt air warfare.


Yeah, sure a B-1 or B-2 bomber is analogous to a 79 Chevy.... More like a 79 Mercedes or even a Toyota or Honda. And if the 1979 Mercedes has been well-maintained, it has another 20 years left on it.

clifford kiracofe

Military spending is non-productive so should be at the lowest level possible that protects our Nation's security. There are other tools of power such as intelligence capabilities, diplomatic action, and international economic action.

Ike reduced the defense spending despite Cold War tensions.

What did Ike do? He created two massive infrastructure projects that would spark productive economic activity: our Federal Highway System and the St. Lawrence Seaway Project. I think massive infrastructure spending here AT HOME is warranted. We have to "convert" from the National Security State economy to a normal peacetime economy....I know GWOT and all that hysteria...

At some point, hopefully before we spiral into totally uncontrollable debt/unsustainable debt payments and hyperinflation we will radically slash the defense budget and shut down unnecessary foreign basing.

An SST reader posted a very interesting sentence a week or so ago about LIBOR and US Treasury rates. Here is an infographic that illustrates the comment and indicates recession. Interesting that it is Novosti running a Goldman Sachs graphic:

So a recession simultaneous with massive federal deficit and massive current account deficit is a recipe for...?


I would vote for anyone who could take a scalpel to the pentagon's budget. I believe one of Rumsfelds supposed missions was to look for government waste. He found the Pentagon couldn't account for more than a trillion dollars in financial transactions, not to mention dozens of tanks, missiles and planes. I think the last I heard was hands were thrown up at the GAO and the Pentagon was declared unauditable.


Pat, yes, it is welfare, but for Lockheed as well as AF academy grads.

I believe the USAF recently grounded 500+ F-15s due to a known structural defect on some aircraft. No idea if they will do radiagraphy to find which ones have the cracked supports or if they just want all of us to foot the bill for 500+ F-22's.

Sydney, which of the airforces on planet earth are a threat to our refueling tankers? Iran's? China's? Just what capabilities do they have?


And speaking to Kevin's point, I would recommend Chalmers Johnson's post over at TomDispatch. Having a military establishment sufficient to defend the territorial integrity and the truly vital geopolitical interests of the Republic is both a good idea and sustainable economically. Having a military establishment sufficient to establish and maintain a worldwide hegemony...well, not so much.


Jack K

No doubt. Why waste hard cash on old school bombers when drones are cheap, can hit targets, and collect real time information? Jeez...

Duncan Kinder

Given all of the outsourcing that has been going on, how much of this bomber would actualy be produced domestically?


The big question for me is: what the bloody use is a big bomber except to provide billion dollar jobs to contractors?

Strategic bombing has never worked except maybe over Japan. The large-scale bombing of targets without ground forces present to exploit the destruction(assuming you haven't bombed empty jungle, a la Vietnam) has also proven largely useless(especially see the Israeli-Hezbollah Summer War of 2006 and the US bombing of Tora Bora). Thus, I don't see how penetrating 2,000 miles into territory you can't otherwise touch will be of much use.

Not to mention how useless a bomber like this would be against covert terrorist cells or insurgencies.


are you kidding ... in the new world of privatized military operations, just imagine the fleecing, er, opportunities there are for the entrepeneur:

Company Paid Twice for War Support Work
By RICHARD LARDNER – 2 days ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — A defense contractor hired to repair combat equipment routinely failed to do the job right and then charged the government millions of dollars for the extra work needed to get the gear ready for battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a newly released audit.

Overall, the contractor's employees at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait worked about 188,000 additional hours to fix Humvees, heavy transporters and fighting vehicles that allegedly were mended but flunked a military inspection, the Government Accountability Office said.

The GAO estimates the Army paid $4.2 million for the additional labor. Under the terms of the $581 million contract, the company is to be paid for all maintenance hours worked. That includes "labor hours associated with maintenance performed after the Army rejects equipment that fails to meet Army maintenance standards," said the GAO, which is the investigative arm of Congress.

The contractor is not named in the GAO audit. The contract number is, however. The Federal Procurement Data System, a Web site that tracks government contracts, shows ITT Federal Services International of Colorado Springs, Colo., as the company performing the work. ...

In one case, a semitrailer used for hauling massive M-1 tanks was fixed and submitted to the Army as ready for return to the field. It failed inspection. After that, the contractor charged the government for 636 hours of repair work before it passed inspection more than three months later. ... [this must have been some tricked-out, customized smokin' semi by the time ITT Federal Services International got done. ugh.]


Cold War Zoomie

Technology will not replace what human brains can do in our lifetimes so there will always be a need for manned aircraft. And considering the rise of China I see no reason to scuttle long range "legacy" bomber programs all together.

What confuses me is why we should replace the B-52s and B-2s with an inferior aircraft. By inferior, I mean the main specifications of range, speed and payload.

It would be interesting to see a cost comparison between maintaining our current B-52H and B-2 fleets and building brand-new bombers. My hunch is that maintenance is ultimately cheaper.

Whenever these issues come up I think of the Soviets during WWII and their philosophy of making lots and lots of low-tech, highly armored machines that are relatively cheap to build. They could throw tons of these machines into action and ultimately win by attrition. Sometimes we rely too much on advanced technology.


The Air Force definitely needs to go on a financial diet, but its desires for new high-tech bombers are only the tip of the iceberg.

If we really want to see a return to accountability in our defense expenditures, we should start by shutting down the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. This taxpayer-supported facility has become a bastion of anti-American activity, by promoting a pseudo-religious culture that is at complete variance with our constitution.

We should move the academy to someplace where the locals will think twice before installing perverts like Ted Haggard across the highway from our cadets. Moving the academy to some lonely USAF base recently BRAC'ed out of comission would be a good idea for such relocation, and the move would serve as a perpetual reminder that when a community abuses the public trust, the federal dollars will soon flow elsewhere.

The Air Force academy is not Annapolis or West Point. By the time the Wright brothers first took flight, the USMA had already chalked up a century of real service to the nation. We don't need expensive new high-tech bombers, and we certainly can't afford to train another generation of Air Force officers who believe we do.

Babak Makkinejad

clifford kiracofe:

In a capitalist economy, money percolates up. To prevent a situation in which a small group own an entire country - like certain states in Central America - money has to be kept circulating.

Reagan gave a public subsidy to US capitalism by his arms build-up.

My personal preference for a public project is to build a massive space station at the Lagrangian 5. It would keep money circulating while producing jobs in the United States for all the science and technology graduates out there in addition to grounds and maintenance jobs for those currently on the dole.

David W

While I tend to agree with the belief that our military budget is the biggest pork barrel in history, I did find something interesting while researching the B2; one of its stealth engineers, Noshir Gowadia is going to trial on Feb 12, accused of selling B2 tech secrets to the Chinese govt, as well as individuals from Germany, Israel and Switzerland.

Charles I

Ike named the beast, and now a feckless, checkless global incarnation of it well limned by Clifford K in an earlier post owns you and your grandchildren.

Linda, your article is the tip of the iceberg, but illustrative of the whole deadly scam. Check out Jeremy Scahill's "Blackwater: The rise of the world's most powerful
mercenary army". The privatization, fraud and enrichment are bad enough, but the stuff of military fraud in theatre is death to ill equipped troops, and fewer resources for the returning wounded. Plus it it helps sell the we-can't-afford-social-programs program of the wealthy elites, whist simultaneously enriching them and paying off their enablers.

Clifford, I couldn't get your link to work, but w/r/t " a recession simultaneous with massive federal deficit and massive current account deficit is a recipe for. . ."

. . .the gutting of all social spending, militarization of the Homeland complete with well-armed, well-connected unaccountable private mercenary armies commanded by a fundamentalist who's primary allegiance is not to the constitution, but to the fantasy he imagines the Bible prescribes. Or perhaps to an Operation Northwoods immediately followed by an overt fascist/fundamentalist coup.

CWZ; real time human perception and input from thousands of miles away are already raining death to one or to all within range. I don't think the requirement for human direction requires humans in situ, particularly for over the horizon delivery of heavy tactical munitions that I imagine would be deployed in such globe spanning scenarios.

But navy'll never give up its boats - check out the plans for Marines delivered by torpedo or refitting billion dollar Tridents to fire conventional(or maybe bio/chem when the shite really flies, or the targets are tinted types far away over the horizon) warheads in face of perfectly good cruise missiles. Similarly, the air force and other services will always scramble for new manned boondoggles, many of which are implemented for political rather than military needs, a la the ill-fated Osprey.

Babaak, surely to god, any god, billions and billions of such a public economic project employing the same engineering and technical cadres would be far better spent by an energy Manhattan project on the ground. Or, given market and human inclinations, for a pill that'll grow hair and/or breasts whilst keeping you skinny. Maybe an energy crash program wouldn't fire the imagination the way a twinkling Lagrangian bauble in the heavens would, but its time for a little more reality and a little less imagination. Given the state of accounts and infrastructure down here on Earth I'd look at another grand space station as an irresponsible distraction from current pressing needs, as well as confirmation that bread and a circus will keep 'em down every time, and a strict policy of ignoring the laws of physics and the facts on the ground had been successfully implemented.

dilbert dogbert

I would like to hear from someone in the industry who is worried about how to achieve a skilled workforce over the long lifetimes of our weapon systems.
I have a feeling that you can't keep smart skilled people around who only get to design and build one system in their lifetime.
Maybe we have to waste money to maintain that workforce?


money percolates up.

Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 26 January 2008 at 10:19 AM

Show me any governing system where wealth and power don't accumulate at the hand of few over time. I show you a sucker.

Without feedback every system thus far converges toward plutocrats. The big excuses are different, but it all works the same way.


A '79 Chevy wasn't a very good representative of automobiles, even in 1979.

However, the B-52 has persisted for a service life of about 50 years, and still has few peers. I'd pony up for that kind of Chevy.

Why do we need a new airframe with these capabilities? It's not to relieve the strain on tanker operations, is it? Dominance of central Asian oilfields, perhaps? Is that task necessary? Is it one we should be eager to assume and provision for? Is this the only or best way to carry out such a mission? Who will be our competitors in this endeavor, and what can we surmise of their future actions and capability?

New weapons systems have a fairly predictable pattern of becoming loaded down with transformational new features using unproven technology and systems, that predictably leads to enormous cost overruns and lengthy lead times and debugging. The new fighter program, and the Littoral Combat Ship program are poster children for this.

It's a good idea to keep a healthy, indigenous armory, and if there is no purchasing that industry will dwindle or emigrate. As has been pointed out, we already purchase more military capacity than the rest of the world combined. I'm not sure how much more we can do, or what incremental benefit we can obtain.

I can't help suspecting that if we devoted the budget of this program into renewable energy technology research and production we might obtain far more actual national security. Imagine if our military strategy was not predicated on needing to go into the oil regions of the world and taking fuel from reluctant, avaricious trading partners. If oil had perhaps one quarter of its current importance to the developed world's economies, what would be the strategic importance of the Middle East?


--"My personal preference for a public project is to build a massive space station at the Lagrangian 5. It would keep money circulating while producing jobs in the United States for all the science and technology graduates out there in addition to grounds and maintenance jobs for those currently on the dole."

As the baby boomers come to fruition, I am now thinking more towards health care or SS; Warren Buffet made his fortune following this powerful demographic group, but I believe the military industrial complex has more to do with empowerment of a certain sector of the population with political and monetary clout while apealing to patriotism and fear mongering. The GWOT can be used to undo the fatal errors of 20th century european imperialism before making the transition.

Sydney Freedberg

To answer a question addressed to me earlier:

"Sydney, which of the airforces on planet earth are a threat to our refueling tankers? Iran's? China's? Just what capabilities do they have?"

Ah. It's not the air forces that are the problem, so much as the surface-to-air missiles. Moore's law -- the doubling of available processing power every 18 months -- keeps making sensors and guided weapons cheaper. B-52s bombed the Taliban quite effectively, but a 2020 Taliban-equivalent (let alone a genuinely formidable opponent) will likely have much nastier air defenses, requiring a less detectable bomber.


Like any procurement decision, the weapons you buy depend on what you want your military to do and evaluating the necessity of a new bomber is no different. Additionally one must consider other factors like our strategy and doctrine for warfare and how a bomber fits into that strategy.

I think Sydney's article gives a pretty good overview of the issue, but I'll give my response to Col. Lang's question directly on the differences between multi-role fighter aircraft and bombers in actual operations.

The first thing to consider is aerial refuelling (tanking). The Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy are all dependent to a significant extent tanking. This is particularly true today with the demise of medium-range aircraft such as the F-111 and the A-6. The smaller, multi-role aircraft we use today require significantly more tanking support than a bomber for a comparable payload. For instance, a single B-1 bomber can carry 24 GBU-31 weapons (GBU-31 is the 2000 pound JDAM variant) while the F-35 can carry 2 internally (and maintain its stealth characteristics) or 6 total (2 internally, 4 on the wings) if stealth is not a problem. So to equal 1 B-1 bomber would require approximately 4 F-35's in the best case. When one calculates the range and payload of both options it quickly becomes apparent that the tanking requirements for an all F-35 strike would require about 3-5 times the number of tankers to accomplish the same mission. The greater the distance, the greater the disparity. One could, conceivably, launch a strike using multi-role fighters from US soil against targets in Iraq, but the number of tankers required to support such a mission would be extraordinary. In fact, the availability of tankers has been the limiting factor on the pace and scope of air operations at various times in the past and continues to be a challenge today. So relying on multirole fighters to perform traditional bomber missions will, at a minimum, require the US to buy many more tanking aircraft to keep the same capability.

The increased number of aircraft also increases mission complexity and therefore risk. More spare aircraft must be made available in case one aircraft cannot fly, timelines are expanded because of coordination issues increasing not only mission length, vulnerability windows as well as making tactical surprise more difficult.

Additionally, as was noted by others earlier, refuelling aircraft can only operate in friendly airspace. For the US this means over an allied nation away from SAM envelopes or over water. Here is where the inherent range of each aircraft becomes an issue. Without going into all the details, bombers can penetrate further and loiter longer than multi-role fighters. Multirole aircraft configured with bombs typically have less range and endurance than the same aircraft with only air-to-air weapons. All these factors and more conspire to limit the ability of these shorter-range multirole aircraft to operate in the deep battle space or strike strategic targets.

Finally, there is the issue of capability. Our workhorse bomber remains the B-52 but it can only operate in permissive environments. The comparison to a Chevy is not apt. Let's make a better comparison - say the M48 Patton - a US tank originally fielded around the same time as the B-52. We've replaced these tanks with the M1 Abrams, but conceivably they could have been kept in service through 2040 through upgrades. But such upgrades can only do so much because of limitations inherent in the basic design. Even upgraded they would not be survivable on today's battlefield much less battlefields over the next 30 years. Newer tanks outclass them because their basic designs are better. The same can be said for the B-52 - it is not survivable against most threats and therefore requires air supremacy to operate which obviously limits its usefulness. The B-2, by contrast, is very survivable but 20 aircraft is not a lot to depend on, and the B-1 is schedule for retirement in eight years.

These are just a few issues to think about on a complex topic. As I stated at the beginning, much depends on the kind of wars we might be in - if they're going to be smaller, third-world affairs akin to Afghanistan, Somalia, etc. then a bomber will not be needed. For a war like Desert Storm against a 2nd or 1st tier opponent then bombers will probably be a necessary component to fight the deep battle and perform other traditional bomber roles. Personally, I have no idea what the future holds so I'm inclined to hedge a bit against uncertainty and take a middle course. Two options come to mind. First, I would look at the cost to upgrade the B-1 to keep it flying another 20 years or so. Secondly, I would look at developing a cheap, long-range UAV bomber as a gap-filler.

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