First the recent developments:
Contract for new U.S. long-range bomber due soon: Air Force secretary
US Air Force: Cost Error Won’t Impact Bomber Planning
Air Force Blames Mistaken Bomber Costs on ‘Human Error’
Opinion: Sizing Up The U.S. Air Force’s Next Bomber
LRS-B could fly under arms-treaty radar
A meeting in Washington a few weeks ago, organized by the Center for a New American Security, brought together think-tankers, analysts and journalists to talk about the Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), an $80-billion-plus project to be awarded soon to either a Boeing–Lockheed Martin team or Northrop Grumman.
The consensus was that there was no consensus, with a remarkable spread of opinions as to the most basic features of LRS-B—the requirements that will determine the project’s cost and schedule, largely irrespective of the targets set for public consumption.
But it’s possible to take an informed guess, starting with one fact: The LRS-B requirement emerged after its precursor, the Next Generation Bomber (NGB), had been canceled as too risky and expensive.
Bomber design starts with weapon load. It would be hard to justify a B-2-like 50,000-lb. payload today. Even in the 1980s, a mission that would involve 16 nuclear weapons was hard to imagine: the B-2’s weapon bays were designed around conventional missions. But at the time, guided bombs were expensive and required external designation; today, fire-and-forget guided weapons are commodities. There will be B-2s to deliver the 30,000-lb. Massive Ordnance Penetrator [more here] until nearly 2050, and work on lighter alternatives is already underway.
The B-2’s key range number is 10,000 nm with one outbound refueling—from Whiteman AFB, Missouri, to Soviet missile fields and back. The question is whether the LRS-B needs global range, or whether the goal will be to reach targets from a safely distant refueling orbit. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), in a report that appeared during the NGB-to-LRS-B transition, assessed that a 2,500-nm post-refueling combat radius was adequate.
But a bomber with a range under 8,000 km (4,319 nm) is not subject to limits under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [see here], whether it is nuclear-capable or not. So a modest reduction from the CSBA range number would leave the U.S. free to build any number of LRS-Bs, and even to build heavy bombers within New Start limits to carry cruise missiles or future hypersonic weapons.
Such range and payload figures don’t add up to a large aircraft. LRS-B could truly be a medium bomber, a species extinct in the U.S. (but not Russia or China) since 1970…
Keep in mind that smaller=cheaper. Anyone remember the FB-111?