Warplanes: June 19, 2001

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The bomber generals are trying to make a comeback. In the U.S. Air Force, the bomber community ran the show from the time the air force became a separate service in 1947 until the 1980s. From then on, fighter pilots ruled the roost. The fighter jocks took over largely because so many of them racked up more career enhancing combat experience during the Vietnam war than did bomber pilots. That, plus the fact that the number of bombers in the air force (and bomber pilots eligible for promotion to general) declined as ICBMs replaced a lot of bombers. But now the bomber crowd sees a chance to get back in the driver's seat. The new Secretary of Defense likes the idea of having B-2 stealth bombers able to fly from North America to anywhere in the world and deliver accurate GPS guided bombs. During the Kosovo bombing campaign, six B-2s, flying from a Midwestern base, dropped 651 one ton GPS guided bombs. Each B-2 can now carry 324 smaller GPS guided bombs. Sensing an opportunity, the B-2 manufacturer has offered to build 40 more B-2s at a fixed price. The existing B-2s cost two billion dollars each, mainly because there were supposed to be 132 but the program was stopped when 21 were built. The proposed fixed price will be $545 each (plus another $200 million or so each for equipment, support and training.) The B-2 plant, which will have to be converted to other use if no more B-2s are built, can turn out four aircraft a year. Thus it wouldn't be until 2012 that the B-2 force reached 61 aircraft. That's an awesome amount of firepower. In the early stages of a campaign, you could get about two thirds of those 61 B-2s over a target in the first few days. That's over 12,000 GPS guided bombs (some carrying anti-tank weapons). Actually, such an attack would probably drop more like 8,000 bombs, as many of the bombs would be of the one ton "bunker buster" variety. The fighter generals are likely to oppose this, as the money to buy the additional B-2s would come out of funds currently earmarked for buying the new J-22 and JSF.


 


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