Title: A Look at The United States Bomber Force
Authors: Raul Colon
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Studies looked at designing a high-speed platform capable of global strike missions. This could range from a conventional aircraft capable of Mach 2.7 to a trans-atmospheric vehicle operating at up to Mach 14. The vehicle would be able to strike a target from the continental United States without refueling, though it might require refueling for its return. It would be capable of striking any target within 3 hours or less. The main issue is speed versus stealth, since the fastest vehicle would sacrifice stealth, while the stealthiest aircraft would be the slowest. Even though their capabilities overlap those of other strike weapon systems, cruise missiles have broadened the options available to commanders and have demonstrated that they are a viable strike capability in the absence of theater- or aircraft carrier-based strike aircraft. Therefore, most future strike aircraft may not require as long a range or as high a degree of stealth as originally planned.

In September 1999 Northrop Grumman Corporation's Integrated Systems and Aero-structures (ISA) Sector released technical renderings of advanced concepts it was exploring for a future strike aircraft (FSA) that could replace the current U.S. long-range bomber fleet. Northrop Grumman was working under a 12-month U.S. Air Force study contract to help refine requirements for the type of aircraft platform, weapons and technologies as part of a cost-effective system to achieve future strike capability. The Air Force selected Northrop Grumman ISA to be a major study participant because of its experience in building the world's most advanced bomber, the B-2 Spirit, as well as its expertise in integration, stealth technology, composites manufacturing, fighter aircraft and airframe manufacturing, electronics and unmanned vehicles. Despite the diversity of potential programs, program uncertainties are a constant worry for defense aerospace prime contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman. Any slips or the cancellation of either the F-22 or the JSF aircraft programs would have significant near-term consequences for the engineering work force, be- cause of the absence of equivalent programs. Even if the JSF enters the EMD phase, there will be a 16-vear can between FY08 and FY24 before the Future Strike System is planned to enter the EMD phase. Therefore, even if the JSF enters the EMD phase on schedule, the work force faces an uncertain future.

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