Monday, March 23, 2009

Just Don't Call It a Bomber

From Friday's edition of the Danger Room....

Northrop Grumman just unveiled its design patents for the military's Next Generation Bomber. But one of the Air Force's top generals is hoping you'd call it something else. Because this aircraft, slated for a possible 2018 takeoff, is going to do much more than drop warheads from on high.


But you can't really compare yesterday's bombers to tomorrow's, argues Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. David Deptula. It's a mistake to even think of the new plane as a bomber, he says.

"If you look at Next-Generation Bomber - I wouldn't call it a bomber, because that creates a perception based on historical uses of bombers that this platform is going to be well beyond," Deptula tells Danger Room. "This platform is going to have the ability to conduct intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, act as a communications node -- and have the added capability of providing strike."

Despite its varied capabilities the new bomber--or whatever you might call it--faces an uncertain future, at best. The White House wants to shelve the project to free up cash for other programs, part of a new "Procurement Holiday" that could last into the next decade and beyond.

There's also the matter of meeting tight production schedules. Many experts doubt that a manned version of the new aircraft can be fielded by 2018, the original target date announced by the Air Force. The service hopes to meet that deadline by using "off-the-shelf" technology, including projected upgrades for the B-2 fleet.


Ed Rasimus said...

At my age it is rare to encounter a name I recall from my active duty days, but Dave Deptula did it. Fighter pilot, good guy. Right hand of Chuck Horner in orchestrating Desert Storm. Nice to see a warrior make good.

Northrop, on the other hand, hasn't had a good track record over the years since F-5/T-38. Their creativity and innovation typically involves flights of incredible fancy which get bogged down in the real world of political manuevering that leads to actual contracts. It's been that way since Jack Northrop was building flying wings in his garage and dreaming about B-35s.

MDConservative said...

1) Now they wouldn't call it a bomber because of the public perception. It used to be what the Soviet perception was.

As in calling the F-117 a "fighter" when it was obviously an "attack" or "bomber."

2) Innovation is important. I did a post some years ago.

kitanis said...

Remember the F/A-22 designation for the F-22?

I wonder...whats in the name?

Ed Rasimus said...

The numbering criteria for the USAF is regularly discussed online. At the core of the discussion is the philosophical difference between the USAF and USN regarding missions. The Navy has long made a distinction between Fighter and Attack, in numbering their aircraft, their squadrons, etc. Fighter aircraft defend the fleet overhead and occasionally do the counter-air mission ashore. Attack aircraft are the offensive air arm.

The USAF got into the habit of designating into tactical and strategic. The tactical air mission involved both A/G and A/A activities. For that reason a tactical aircraft typically carries the F designation, even if it has little or no air superiority capability. This applied to F-111 long before F-117.
The exceptions in USAF livery are usually aircraft that are sourced from other services such as the A-1 and A-7. (The A-10 is a noteworthy exception.)

In the good old days, a "fighter pilot" in the AF could do any and all of the missions his aircraft was capable of. By the mid-to-late '80s, aircrews became specialized in their mission, even if the aircraft had capabilities beyond their specialty.

I often said (at least a bit seriously) that "air superiority is something a fighter pilot does on his way to and from the target."