In response to a recent U.S. Air Force request for information, Boeing has formed a global strike team to look at the U.S. Air Force’s future long range or global strike force solutions. Several Boeing business units are involved in this team:
Air Force Systems, Naval Systems and Aerospace Support, as well as Integrated Defense Advanced Systems and Phantom Works.
Boeing’s response to the Air Force includes an array of potential solutions for Global Strike-Global Persistent Attack capability. Concepts ranged from a re-engined and upgraded B-1R bomber, a Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems X-45D, a long range cruise missile, a Prompt Global Strike Missile, and a Blended Wing Body Arsenal Aircraft.
The Air Force’s 1999 bomber plan did not call for a replacement system to be fielded before 2037, but some of the options could move the date to as early as 2015. The replacement date will be determined by the ability of the current B-1B, B-2 and B-52H fleet to remain operationally effective. For that reason, Boeing’s legacy program management has been given a seat at the Global Strike Team table.
“We want to ensure the current bomber team supports and complements the development team as it works these new concepts,” said Scott White, Boeing B-1/B-2 general manager. “We understand the user’s requirements and how each can be satisfied with legacy equipment, when current systems become operationally or technically obsolete, we can help identify where and when the gaps begin to occur.”
During more recent conflicts, the rapid destruction of enemy air defenses allowed the U.S. Air Force bomber force, including the venerable B-52, to return to higher altitudes and deliver a new generation of precision-guided weapons with relative impunity.
However, the increase of more sophisticated air defense systems will almost certainly make future engagements more challenging. At the same time, the growing importance of network-centric architecture is increasingly changing the targeting priorities for mission planners.
One proposed solution is the B-1R, essentially a B-1B powered by four Pratt & Whitney F119s, which are also used on the F/A-22 Raptor. White said that the B-1B has the range and payload for the mission but with a few tweaks its capabilities would be greatly enhanced.
“In many ways, we would be restoring the original capabilities envisioned in the B-1A program, such as Mach 2 speeds,” said White. Additional enhancements would include network-centric capabilities, air-to-air engagement, active electronically-scanned array radar, improved defensive systems, and opening up existing external hard points for conventional weapons.
Ron Marcotte, Boeing Air Force Systems vice president and deputy general manager, identifies at least three distinct target sets that need to be addressed. The first day of war requires critical targets such as command and control complexes to be destroyed as quickly as possible.
“These may require a conventional ballistic missile, capable of striking anywhere in the world within 30 minutes, or very stealthy, fast, manned and unmanned platforms, or maybe both,” he said.
Once the “door has been kicked down,” there is an intermediate set of anti-access targets such as SAM batteries that will be destroyed. Finally, there are large numbers of smaller targets that must be removed in order for the war to be successfully prosecuted and an enemy defeated. Where air domination exists, persistence takes on a more important role with bombers or unmanned air vehicles orbiting overhead and striking targets as needed.
“I think we need to be thinking about a basket of capabilities that produce the effects and results of long range strike,” said Marcotte. “I think we’re going to end up with a family of networked-enabled systems rather than one single platform.”
Furnishing the current bomber force with enhanced connectivity and precision weaponry will help sustain the current fleet for at least 15-20 more years.
The next step is the Arsenal Aircraft. It could conceivably deploy from the continental U.S., carrying many hundreds of hypersonic weapons, or cruise missiles -- each plugged into the network-centric architecture and capable of hitting enemy targets from stand-off distances.
The Blended Wing Body Arsenal Aircraft meets these requirements.
“One of the big advantages is very pure aerodynamic design for very efficient long range cruise,” said Rich Parke, director of Global Strike Integration. “So if you look at that kind of a loiter capability, plus the volume for large stores of precision weapons, you’ve got a winning combination.”
Another option is further growing the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems currently being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Agency. Boeing is building three X-45C unmanned aircraft at its St. Louis facility, with the first flight scheduled for early 2007. The X-45A demonstrators now flying dropped the first smart weapon from an air vehicle.
Boeing’s response to the Air Force request for information included a scaled-up “D” variant featuring greater range and payload capability than the “C” version.
“Whatever emerges from all of this, Boeing arguably should be at the forefront,” said Marcotte. “It’s probably going to be a larger set of platforms, it’s probably going to be stealthy and who better than Boeing is experienced and qualified to provide those capabilities.”