Warplanes: July 10, 2004

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In response to Air Force requests for new long-range strike options, ones that could be operational by 2015, Boeing and Northrop Grumman have proposed modified versions of the B-1B and B-2A bombers. Boeings B-1R would include new sensors, including an advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and forward-looking IR (FLIR) sensors, plus a high speed satellite communications connection. Stock B-1Bs only have an '80's era radar set; AESA would provide greater resolution for locating and attacking ground targets, could be instantly switched into air-to-air combat mode, and also can be used to locate and jam radars. FLIR would provide an additional capability for identifying targets in day or night conditions, especially important since long-range bombers are finding a role in circling combat areas for hours,  and using GPS-guided bombs to strike targets that eventually show up. The aircraft would be capable of carrying AIM-120 air-to-air missiles on external pylons for self-defense, and swap out the B-1Bs existing GE-F101 engines for the more powerful F119 engines already used on the F/A-22 Raptor fighter. The newer engines would increase the B-1s speed to at least Mach 1.6; currently, the B-1B cruises at Mach 0.85 with a Mach 1.2 capability for short periods. 

Northrop Grummans enhanced B-2A would incorporate faster computers, fiber-optic data links, and faster on-board satellite connections. All the new IT hardware would allow for the carriage of mixed loads of munitions and dynamically and rapidly assigning targets to them in flight. Lockheed Martin has offered proposals based upon derivatives of the F/A-22 fighter, that keep the planes stealth and speed, by trading off dogfighting agility for greater payload and range.

Other concepts offered up by the companies included a Global Strike Missile based upon refurbished decommissioned Peacekeeper ICBM stages topped by a common aero vehicle weapons carrier, designed to carry several weapons that can be used after the warhead reneters the atmosphere. Larger bomber versions of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) have also been offered and Boeing has proposed a bomber version of its Blending Wing Body aircraft designed to carry up to 265 cruise missiles in a stand-off role as an arsenal aircraft Doug Mohney

 


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