Title: A Look at The United States Bomber Force
Authors: Raul Colon
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Under current plans, the B-52, along with the younger B-1B Lancer and the new stealthy B-2 Spirit, will be kept around until approximately 2037, by which time the Air Force calculates that attrition will have reduced the fleet below the minimum 170 aircraft. The B-52s may fly to 2045. Based on current operating procedures, attrition models, and service lives, the total bomber inventory is predicted to fall below the required 170 aircraft fleet by 2037. This date will become the target Initial Operational Capability (IOC) date for a follow-on to the current bomber capability, and an acquisition process can be planned by backing up from this date. Based on current projections for airframe economic service life and forecast mishap rate, initiating a replacement process no later than 2013 will ensure a capability to fill the long-range air power requirement as the current systems are retired. There are, however, additional concerns besides service life and mishap rates that could shift this replacement timeline. Changes in employment concepts, driven by technological advances in munitions and threats, or improvements in industry's ability to perform cost effective major structural extensions could extend today's bomber force well beyond current projections. This may shift the acquisition timeline for a replacement capability further into the future.

The Light Bomber (Manned) concept calls for a medium-sized aircraft that blends the advantages of a tactical fighter with a strategic bomber to develop a medium/long range, high payload capability (inter-theater) affordable bomber. The aircraft will utilize some level of low-observable technology to obtain an effective yet affordable aircraft which can provide for multiple/heavy weapons carriage and launch for missions requiring real time decision making/re-planning or autonomous operations. Cost would be controlled by utilizing off-the-shelf systems and affordable stealth technologies (JSF technology). Logistic support would be enhanced by maximizing commonality of support equipment with existing systems.

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