Service wants ideas from industry for aircraft to fill gap before next generation arrives

The US Air Force has invited industry to propose ideas for a new bomber force that will be capable of striking more of the most difficult targets and be delivered two decades before a next-generation aircraft arrives in 2037.

A tailless, larger version of the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F/A-22 Raptor - dubbed the F/B-22 - is a leading contender, but competing concepts also are being developed by Boeing and Northrop Grumman. The X-45C unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV)is expected to be the focus of Boeing's proposal, which could set up one of the first competitions between a manned an unmanned platform. Northrop Grumman plans to offer a range of options that borrow from the company's work on quiet supersonic technology, the B-2A stealth bomber and the X-47B UCAV.

The companies have 30 days to respond to a request for information posted on 29 April. The invitation, which is open only to US companies, was released by the capability planning division at the Aeronautical Systems Center, which manages the air force's fighter and bomber programmes.

The request could pave the way to a development effort beginning in 2006, followed by initial operational capability in 2015, with all deliveries to be completed by 2020. This scheduling approach is intended to serve as a bridge between the existing bomber force, which includes 21 B-2As, about 60 Rockwell B-1Bs and about 90 Boeing B-52Hs, and a next-generation long-range strike platform planned for 2037. The interim capability would not be used as a replacement, but would supplement the existing fleet with new upgrades.

The goal is to be able to operate at "extended distances" with a flexible payload, including nuclear and conventional munitions, and be able to strike hardened and deeply buried targets. A new or modified bomber aircraft is considered the most likely option, but the air force is open to other ideas.

Marvin Sambur, assistant secretary to the air force for acquisition, says the F/B-22 is one of the options the air force wants to review.

Responses to the request for information are required to include "the magnitude of resources necessary to field this capability in 2015", the USAF says. "Desired attributes are responsiveness, persistence, survivability (including lethal self-protection), lethality, connectivity and affordability."



Source: Flight International