Initiatives and Implementation
This report presents four options to illustrate how the Defense Department might prioritize investments over time to meet DoD’s known and emerging long-range strike capability shortfalls. All options recommend developing an unmanned multi-mission aircraft to extend the range of the Navy’s carrier air wings. They also recommend procuring a small magazine of conventional prompt global strike weapons. Option 1 defers a new bomber decision until the mid-2020s to allow the maturation or invention of new technologies for an even more capable penetrating aircraft. Option 2 calls for developing a new standoff-only bomber without the stealth and supporting systems needed for it to survive in contested airspace. Option 3 accords priority to developing a new penetrating bomber first, while taking advantage of the lengthy remaining service lives of existing bombers for standoff attack operations. Option 4 suggests procuring one penetrating aircraft to replace the Air Force’s entire bomber force.
This report argues that Option 3 appears to offer the most balanced approach for sustaining the nation’s long-range strike strategic advantage over the next thirty years. Accordingly, it recommends that the Department of Defense:
- Initiate a new Air Force program to procure up to one hundred new optionally-manned penetrating bombers with all-aspect, broadband stealth, a payload capacity of approximately 20,000 pounds and a range of 4,000 to 5,000 nautical miles. The bomber should have on-board surveillance and self-defense capabilities to permit independent operations against fxed and mobile targets in degraded C4ISR environments;
- Defer procuring a new standoff strike platform until production of a penetrating bomber is nearly completed;
- Develop an air-refuelable naval UCAS with at least a 1,500 nautical mile combat radius and the all-aspect, broadband low-observable characteristics required to survive in the face of advanced air defense networks;
- Invest in a joint cruise missile that could be launched from long-range and short-range strike platforms and be capable of carrying either conventional or nuclear warheads;
- >Develop a small inventory (a hundred or fewer) of conventional prompt global strike weapons to support limited strikes against very-high-value targets requiring a total response time measured in hours;
- Field an AEA platform to support long-range strike operations, leveraging other DoD programs and off-the-shelf technologies to reduce program development time and cost; and
- Design the new penetrating bomber to have the potential to carry nuclear weapons to sustain the air leg of the nuclear triad and hedge against uncertainty.
Of course, developing the next long-range strike family of systems is more than a question of incorporating new technologies and procuring new platforms. It will also require the Defense Department to deliberately and effectively manage its program investments to ensure its industry partners sustain a highly skilled workforce upon which, ultimately, the US military’s future capabilities depend. Accordingly, the Defense Department and Congress should work together to determine resources required to do so, and to support programs that will enable the US military to sustain its long-range strike advantage over the nation’s future adversaries.