The state has a strategic bomber aviation can be attributed to one of the signs that characterize the global ambitions of the country. They are in the arsenals of the United States and Russia (USSR), China is among the laggards, but it is making great efforts to acquire these types of weapons. For the rest of the world, strategic bombers remain an unaffordable luxury.
Cold War relics: Tu-95 and B-52 bombers
The question of the need for the existence of strategic bombers has been repeatedly raised. On the one hand, ICBMs appeared, which ensured an incomparably faster delivery of nuclear charges, on the other hand, the intensive development of air defense (air defense) means in the form of anti-aircraft missile systems (SAM) became a deterrent.
All of the above, on the one hand, led to the abandonment of ultra-high-tech projects of strategic bombers such as the Soviet T-4 (product 100) of the Sukhoi Design Bureau or the American North American XB-70 Valkyrie, on the other hand, did not lead to the abandonment of strategic bombers in principle.
Unrealized projects of strategic bombers: Soviet T-4 Sukhoi Design Bureau and American North American XB-70 Valkyrie
The effectiveness of strategic bombers increased significantly after the appearance of strategic cruise missiles, which made it possible to attack from a long distance, without entering the enemy's air defense zone.
Nevertheless, the task of breaking through the air defense was not removed. In search of ways to solve it, various options were considered: high-altitude throw at supersonic speed, flight in the terrain enveloping mode, or a combination of these methods. This led to the appearance in the USSR and the USA at the same time of similar, but at the same time quite different strategic bombers of a new generation, Tu-160 and B-1B, respectively, with variable wing geometry.
Strategic bombers Tu-160 and B-1B
Nevertheless, in the face of opposition from modern air defense, the chances of survival for the Tu-160 and B-1B are most likely small, as a result of which in the war between the USSR and the United States, they most likely could only be used as platforms for launching cruise missiles. At the same time, the complexity and cost of their operation, as well as the cost of a flight hour, were significantly higher than that of the "ancient", albeit modernized Tu-95 and B-52.
In the future, the construction of new Soviet cars was slowed down by the collapse of the USSR, and the United States relied on the maximum introduction of stealth technologies to reduce the visibility, which resulted in the emergence of the most expensive stories aviation bomber B-2 Spirit from Northrop Grumman. The cost of one B-2 Spirit bomber is over $ 2,3 billion at current prices.
Bomber B-2 Spirit
We can say that the collapse of the USSR, coupled with the prohibitive cost, "buried" the project: instead of 132 units planned for purchase, only 21 aircraft were produced. Moreover, the complexity and cost of operating the B-2 was even higher than that of the B-1B. All this has led to the fact that the "younger" B-1B and B-2 will be "retired" earlier than the ancient B-52.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that the concept of an ultimatum stealth strategic bomber has justified itself in the eyes of the leadership of the US Air Force (Air Force), since the newest B-21 bomber under development is visually a continuation of the B-2 bomber concept.
The promising bomber B-21 Raider should become the "ideological successor" of the B-2 bomber. The new bomber is being developed as part of the LRS-B program, like the B-21, it was first mentioned in 2016 when the US Air Force signed a development contract with Northrop Grumman.
The planned volume of purchases of B-21 is about 80-100 vehicles, with the possibility of increasing the portfolio of orders to 145 vehicles. Ultimately, the volume of purchases will most likely be related to the final price of the combat vehicle and its actual capabilities.
Presumably, the B-21 should incorporate all the best from the B-2 and at the same time be cheaper in terms of purchase and operation costs. Reducing the cost is planned to be achieved by reducing the dimension of the new bomber and its carrying capacity, as well as partial unification with other aircraft of the American Air Force. In particular, two Pratt & Whitney F135 engines from the fifth generation F-35 fighter are supposed to be used as a power plant. Another possible alternative is the Pratt & Whitney PW9000 power plant, developed on the basis of the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G "civilian" engine, using the technologies of the aforementioned Pratt & Whitney F135.
Pratt & Whitney F135 engine of the F-35 fighter
Based on published images, analysts suggest that the B-21 bomber is optimized for medium to high altitude flights. It is believed that initially the B-2 project also had such a layout, but the Air Force's requirement to ensure flight at low altitudes required a more complex trailing edge configuration.
Estimated size and shape of B-21 versus B-2
B-21 Raider bomber projections
The assembly of the first prototype of the B-21 Raider bomber should be completed in 2021, and it should go on its maiden flight in 2022.
Insignia of the 420th US Air Force Flight Test Squadron, designated Joint Test Group B-21
If the information on optimizing the design of the B-21 bomber for flights at medium and high altitudes is true, then this confirms the conclusions drawn in the article "Where will the combat aviation go: will it press down on the ground or gain altitude?"
Penetrating Counter Air
A study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and published by Defense News mentions a promising fighter designed for deep penetration into enemy territory - the Penetrating Counter Air (PCA), which is to replace both the F-22 Raptor and the F-15 Eagle. This machine is conceived as an ultimatum for gaining air superiority, capable of withstanding the latest developments in Russia and China, and directly over enemy territory. In this case, the tasks of hitting ground targets will be assigned to the F-35 and B-21 aircraft.
Penetrating Counter Air aircraft concept
Presumably, the PCA fighter should be larger than the F-22 Raptor and F-15 due to the need to carry a large supply of weapons and fuel in the internal compartments. Its estimated cost should be $ 300 million per plane.
The Penetrating Counter Air fighter project is somewhat similar to the promising combat aircraft discussed in the article "Concept of a combat aircraft in 2050 and weapons based on new physical principles".
The appearance of the Penetrating Counter Air fighter will most likely depend on the success of the Russian and Chinese air forces in their development. After all, if the internal economic situation in the Russian Federation and the increasing US sanctions pressure on China can restrain the development of the Air Force opposing the United States, then what is the point of purchasing aircraft at $ 300 million apiece? Their tasks may well be solved by the modernized F-22 and F-35 with new weapons.
In addition, it is possible that air cover for the B-21 Raider bomber is not so necessary.
Special features of the B-21
There are a number of assumptions related to the B-21 bomber project. Among them, one can single out information about the armament of this bomber with air-to-air missiles, which will allow it to withstand enemy fighters, laser weapons, which will provide self-defense of the bomber from air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles, as well as kinetic missile defense.
To ensure effective operation against ground and air targets, the B-21 bomber must be equipped with a radar station (radar) with an active phased antenna array (AFAR). It can be assumed that it will be developed on the basis of the existing AN / APG-77 and AN / APG-81 radars, installed on the F-22 and F-35 fighters, respectively. Both of these radars are developed by Northrop Grumman, the same one that develops the B-21 bomber.
Radar with AFAR AN / APG-77 and AN / APG-81, installed, respectively, on the F-22 and F-35 fighters
Considering that the dimensions of the B-21 bomber exceed the dimensions of the F-22 and F-35 fighters, a much larger number of transmit-receive modules (PPM) can be installed as part of a promising radar, which, in turn, will increase the power of the radar, and hence its ability to detect targets and jamming. In turn, the weight and size limitations of modern fighters will not allow them to be equipped with radars comparable in characteristics. This is only possible in larger aircraft, such as the aforementioned Penetrating Counter Air or the Russian MiG-41 / PAK DP.
Unofficial concepts MIG-41 / PAK DP
Also, the B-21 bomber can be equipped with optical-location stations (OLS), similar to the AN / AAQ-37 and AAQ-40, installed on the F-35 fighter. Their development was carried out by Northrop-Grumman in conjunction with Lockheed-Martin. The highest sensitivity of these systems made it possible to detect the launch of a ballistic missile from a distance of 1300 kilometers during tests, as well as detect shots from tank guns. Optoelectronic systems of the F-35 fighter make it possible to detect enemy aircraft with high efficiency, as well as air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.
For its outstanding characteristics, the OLS of the F-35 fighter received the name "God's Eye"
In addition to the ability to conduct electronic warfare (EW) using radar, the size of the B-21 bomber allows it to accommodate additional, specialized EW equipment.
“The new US Air Force strategic stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, will have the ability to engage in air combat just like modern fighters. Major General Scott L. Pleus spoke about this in an article for Air Force Magazine. 2019 ".
As a means of destroying air targets, the B-21 bomber can receive improved versions of the AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles or the MBDA Meteor ramjet engine (ramjet) if this missile is adapted to the requirements of American legislation. But it is much more likely that the main air-to-air weapon of the B-21 bomber will be the Peregrine rocket developed by Raytheon, equipped with a multi-mode homing head (GOS). With range characteristics corresponding to the AIM-120 medium-range missile and maneuverability characteristics corresponding to the AIM-9X short-range missile, the Peregrine rocket should have half the weight and size characteristics of the AIM-120 missile, which will double the ammunition load of F-fighters. 22 and F-35. Accordingly, the B-21 bomber can carry a significant number of such missiles.
Peregrine rocket concept
Given the potential capabilities of the radar and OLS of the B-21 bomber to detect air targets at a great distance, its ammunition load can be supplemented with long-range AIM-260 JATM (Joint Advanced Tactical Missile) missiles, which should replace the AIM-120D missile. The AIM-260 missile should have a firing range of about 200 kilometers, while maintaining the dimensions of the AIM-120D missile.
Of no less, and perhaps more interest, are missiles intended for the carrier's self-defense by intercepting incoming air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.
Kinetic active defense systems
Raytheon has signed a contract with the US Air Force to develop a small-sized MSDM (Miniature Self-Defense Munition) missile with a length of about one meter, designed to intercept enemy missiles using a direct hit (Hit-to-Kill). The development of the missile, essentially the MSDM interceptor missile, should be completed by the end of 2023.
Dimensions of the MSDM missile compared to the AIM-9X and AIM-120 missiles
Previously, Northrop Grumman patented a kinetic anti-missile defense system for stealth aircraft, which can be compared to something like an active protection complex (KAZ) for tanks. Presumably, this patent was related to a request from the US Air Force on a topic implemented as part of the creation of MSDM missiles.
The proposed anti-missile defense complex should include retractable launchers (PU) with small-sized anti-missiles, oriented in different directions, to ensure the circular defense of the aircraft. In the retracted position, the launchers do not increase the visibility of the carrier.
Image from Northrop Grumman's patent for a kinetic missile defense system for stealth aircraft
The launchers should house small-sized anti-missiles, maneuvering decoys, active emitters of electronic warfare (EW).
Preliminary target designation for interceptor missiles should be issued from the carrier's radar and OLS. After launching and capturing the target of the seeker, the anti-missile must operate in a completely autonomous mode. Presumably, anti-missile missiles should use a multi-range seeker, including an active radar homing head (ARLGSN), an infrared homing head (IR seeker) and a guidance system for the radiation of enemy radars (for example, for the radiation of ARLGSN air-to-air missiles of the enemy).
It is assumed that MSDM missiles will only have passive guidance to thermal radiation (IR seeker). It is excluded that it will be supplemented with the ability to target a source of radar radiation, then ARLGSN are too expensive to place them on such antimissiles.
It is not yet clear whether the MSDM missile will be integrated into the Northrop Grumman-patented "aviation KAZ" project as part of the B-21 bomber, or whether it will be a separate Raytheon project and MSDM missiles will be launched from the aircraft's standard weapons bays.
Weapons on new physical principles
The US Armed Forces in general and the Air Force in particular are actively seeking to equip military equipment with laser weapons.
Contrary to the opinion of skeptics, work in this direction is being carried out very actively, and the results can be obtained earlier than expected - the appearance of serial samples of laser weapons can be expected in the period from 2025 to 2030. Given the complexity of integrating laser weapons into an airplane or helicopter glider, it can be expected that container samples of laser weapons will appear first. Thus, fourth-generation aircraft such as F-15, F-16 and F-18 can receive laser self-defense weapons earlier than their fifth generation “counterparts” F-22 and F-35.
Containerized version of laser weapons deployed on an AH-64 Apache helicopter
On the other hand, it can be assumed that laser weapons, deeply integrated into the design of aircraft, will have significantly greater capabilities in comparison with container versions.
It is believed that laser weapons will become an integral part of the sixth generation fighters. The B-21 bomber should appear between the fifth and sixth generation, and the possibility of placing laser weapons will at least be taken into account when developing it.
Laser weapons will complement kinetic self-defense systems and significantly increase the survivability of promising combat and auxiliary aircraft
In 2017, Lockheed Martin won a $ 23,6 million contract to develop a SHiELD (Self-Protection High Energy Laser Demonstrator) laser that can be installed on existing and future aircraft carriers. The SHiELD complex consists of three subsystems: a laser targeting system (Northrop Grumman), a power and cooling system (Boeing), and the laser itself (Lockheed Martin). The entire package is expected to be ready for testing by 2023.
US Air Force laser weapons development schedule as of 2013
Given the complexity and cost of the B-21 bomber program, it can be assumed that part of the potential for the use of air-to-air weapons, kinetic self-defense and the use of laser weapons will be realized immediately, some will be implemented in stages, in packages, in the process of modernization, while the possibility of such upgrades will be planned initially. The US naval forces are now doing the same, initially planning the deployment of laser weapons in promising ship projects, pending their readiness for mass production.
Ultimately, the presence of advanced reconnaissance means, low visibility, significant stocks of weapons in the internal compartments, as well as laser and kinetic defensive systems, will turn the B-21 bomber into a "flying fortress" of the XNUMXst century.
What consequences will the appearance of such an advanced aircraft as the B-21 bomber have if it receives all the capabilities discussed in the article?
It all depends on the effectiveness of those offensive and defensive systems that will be installed on it. If the US Air Force senses that the B-21's defensive systems are capable of effectively protecting it from Russian and Chinese air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles, then an increase in the number of violations of the Russian-Chinese state border by these aircraft can be expected. The only limiting factor here can be the risk of losing the latest technologies in case of failure, but the more significant will be the fact of violation if it does happen.
If the B-21 Raider receives advanced capabilities for engaging air targets and self-defense, it can become a kind of "flying destroyer" and play the same role that missile destroyers now play as part of an aircraft carrier strike group (AUG), i.e. in fact, the function of striking ground targets can become secondary in relation to the ability to counter enemy aircraft.
In this case, it is more correct to call the B-21 Raider not a bomber, and not even a missile-carrying bomber, but a strategic multifunctional combat aviation complex.
In this case, strike functions can be assigned to F-35 aircraft (in close missions) and to transport aircraft with recoverable stealth unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which we considered in the article Combat "Gremlins" US Air Force: the revival of the concept of aircraft carrier aircraft.
A sufficiently large B-21 bomber can be equipped with advanced reconnaissance equipment comparable in effectiveness to those installed on early-range radar detection aircraft (AWACS), powerful electronic warfare systems, and a significantly larger volume of air-to-air weapons than any fighter can take. Maneuverability in the presence of self-defense systems will no longer be a critical factor, and the visibility of the B-21 will be comparable or less than that of the F-22, F-35, Su-57 or J-20.
Ultimately, this can lead to a significant decrease in the role of light fighters in gaining air superiority and reorientation of the air forces of the leading countries of the world to sufficiently large and heavy fighters aimed at gaining air superiority, since light fighters will not be able to fight heavy fighters even in a group, and the task of striking ground / surface targets will increasingly be assigned to the UAV.
In Russia, an aircraft capable of withstanding promising heavy fighters, as well as B-21 Raider aircraft, if they receive all the capabilities discussed in the article, could potentially become a promising long-range interception aircraft complex PAK DP in conjunction with the Okhotnik UAV, which we will talk about in other material.