We could file this one under the it’s about time file, but perhaps we should wait and see what develops. We have heard of a new aircraft to replace the aging B-52 fleet which has been around almost as long as Donald Trump. John McCain announced Thursday he would block the Air Forces using the often used method of cost plus type of contract on the proposed plan as it would leave the government responsible for cost overruns with no incentive for Northrop Grumman to work to avoid such costs. The engineering and development phase of the program is valued at $21.4 billion according to the Air Force and is conditioned on a cost plus contract with incentive fees for coming in on budget. Such cost plus with incentive presumably works that if an incentive is juicy enough the contractor will produce the bid for project on budget in order to receive the incentive which would presumably be pure profit as no additional work is required within the scheduled time-frame. This, of course, begs a simple question as to whether the company is really doing any additional work to bring any project in under budget and gain the incentive is really more profitable for the company than having cost overruns and extensions on the delivery dates or whether running a project over budget and time is not more profitable as it also keeps employees on a project until the next project perhaps with the Navy or Army can be procured. The game of defense budgets and projects always appears as a nightmare in tricks, gadgets and more costs per-project as time goes by. Sure the aircraft today are far more intricate and sophisticated but so are design and production techniques. When the B-52s, now what one might call a venerable aircraft as it has served well past its intended time in service, were initially built the separate assemblies were built at the same location as the rest of the aircraft and the entire assembly had tolerances which today would be unacceptable but today half the fabrication of parts is performed by robotic units which produce part after part with what would be humanly intolerable accuracy. Robotic welding is common and do not even get started on the exotic materials used in these modern stealthy aircraft. So, without dragging this out, here is the artist’s rendering of the new B-21 bomber.
I can hear the reactions now; half of us are all but drooling on our keyboards while the other half are scratching their heads asking themselves, isn’t this just a slightly tweaked Northrop Grumman Corp B-2 Stealth Bomber? Well, of course not. This is an entirely different aircraft and can in no way be thought of as an aircraft utilizing the same airframe as the B-2 as the picture below demonstrates.
You can see the obvious differences, the air intake and more of a ‘W’ shaped body and there must be an unbelievably difference inside and in capabilities. Let us go to the source with comments by United States Air Force Secretary Deborah James who stated, “The B-21 will allow the Air Force to operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment. Our fifth-generation global precision attack platform will give our country a networked sensor-shoot capability that will allow us to hold targets at risk in a way the world – and our adversaries – have never, ever seen.” Then Secretary Deborah James went on and clarified our confusion explaining, “The B-21 looks very similar to the B-2 and will employ existing technology.” Aha, it is made by the same company as who produced the B-2, it looks a lot like a B-2 and the B-21 will use the same technology as we currently have with the B-2 and we really need this new aircraft, a fifth generation aircraft which has so little to do with that old fourth generation B-2 aircraft. All right, I got it now, I think. Well, let us for argument’s sake compare them side by side and as all our searches for specifications produced this, ‘Very few specifics are known about the new stealth bomber,’ we are left to our own devices on this one for now. So, about the side by side and we are not going to label them.
We really should reserve final judgement on the B-21 until the specifications are made final. As I recall, there were munitions which could not be carried in the weapons bays (bomb bays) of the B-2 and it had to be one of the slowest bombers on the planet which made it completely unsuitable for daytime bombing for which there were fighter/bombers with stealth which could carry out such missions. Of course having a long-range bomber which is unsuitable for daylight raids apparently was not a concern to the Air Force when they contracted for the B-2 which once the B-21 hits production will be obsolete leaving the B-52, sorry, venerable B-52 as the long-range bomber of choice, unless it is a nighttime raid.
Perhaps it is just me but I thought the advantage of a long-range bomber was that it could reach almost any target from any airbase even if it literally had to fly half way around the globe, which, unless the physics have changed, means part of that mission going or returning is going to be flown in daylight conditions. Where this is all well and fine, when the missions one flies are in Iraq and the Iraqis have no aircraft which can be stationed in Europe, North Africa, Asia or on aircraft carriers, thus they were incapable of engaging a B-2 moving at the speed of well short of the sound barrier, makes it a lumbering fat and impossible to miss target. Even training targets would pose a greater challenge. Granted, the B-2 had speed all over a blimp but in daylight conditions it may as well have been a blimp. Hopefully they will have some really impressive thrust to weight ratios which will allow for some respectable speed with the B-21 and also have introduced new avionics and control circuitry and respective airfoils and wings making the B-21 at least marginally maneuverable. Perhaps the main reason for the B-21 is as a replacement initially for the B-2, it ended up being more of an experiment than an actual replacement for the B-52 fleet. This time they had better have gotten the mojo necessary to replace the high flying and initially invulnerable B-52 which still serves proudly well past what I like to call its air show and museum date. So, we will have to wait for more leaks which will tell us far more about the B-21 which, in all honesty, does appear to be a slightly tweaked B-2 stealth bomber. Without improved performance capabilities, they may as well as have put a new more stealthy advanced skin on a B-2 and saved development costs, but I am hoping for the American taxpayers that this bird can fly loops around both of its predecessors, the B-2 and the loud-n-proud old warrior which is older than its pilots, some of whose fathers also flew the B-52, a rarity in aviation. Even civilian aircraft do not have the lifespan of the average B-52 flown today. That will become one of the most respected and honored aircraft and will be a staple for museums, and if any get into private hands, impressive in a low and slow flyover at airshows; she will be missed.
Beyond the Cusp