Military & Aerospace

Stealth Bomber – picking the best
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 17 Nov , 2015

No aircraft is totally invisible to radar but stealth aircraft make it more difficult for conventional radar to detect or track the aircraft effectively because stealth technologies reduce reflection / emission of radar, IR, visible light, radio frequency spectrum and audio; stealth being the combination of passive low observable features and active emitters like low probability interceptor radars, radios and laser designators. Stealth technology combined with active measures to avoid detection because heat, sound and any other emissions, provides the aircraft enabling more chances of survival against radar guided weapons.

The long-range stealth bomber surely is the strategic weapon platform of the future.

Stealth aircraft are hardly new – Germany began developing the first prototype during World War II; the Horten Ho 229 powered by twin BMW 003 engines. There is no history of air-to-air combat experience against stealth aircraft. In 1977, US flew its first stealth combat aircraft demonstrators, followed by Russia in 2010. US military has been flying three versions of stealth fighters and is in the process of inducting the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightening II.

In what has been described as a major upset, the US Air Force chose Northrop Grumman’s entry over those by Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the $80 billion Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) to equip the USAF with the next stealth bomber. The LRS-B fleet is to replace the Boeing B-52H and Rockwell B-1B fleets that lack low observability to radar.

A contract award was originally expected last spring, but was delayed for months without explanation. While the announcement settles the question of the LRS-B manufacturer, most details about the winning design including performance and suppliers remain a heavily-classified mystery. The development contract includes options for the first 21 aircraft of what could become an at least 100-aircraft production run. Pentagon estimators place the cost of development at $23.5 billion in fiscal year 2016 dollars, and the aircraft itself valued at $564 million per unit. USAF has declined to name any suppliers or provide any significant new information other than the prime contractor, and even the aircraft’s designation is still under consideration.

There has been speculation that when the designs of America’s Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightening II were hacked into in 2009, the cyber attack originated from China. This technology has possibly been used in the Chendu J-20.

“America’s current B-2 fleet can generate 12 to 13 sorties per day at best, and ‘all-aspect stealth’ aircraft are critically needed to boost those numbers and keep ahead of Russia and China”, says Mark Gunzinger of Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Less than two hours after winning the LRS-B contract, Northrop Grumman launched a new website about America’s New Bomber, saying “Our potential adversaries are extending their reach, and stealth bombers are America’s most strategic asset to deter future threats and keep our nation safe. Today we only have 20 of them. The website goes on to give details like: long-range bombers deployed in US can strike anywhere in the world in just hours; B-52 is the world’s only stealth bomber capable of undetected missions in enemy territory; innovative stealth technology is critical for evasion and not all stealth is created equal; during first eight weeks of allied operations in Serbia (1999), B-2s flew only 3 percent missions but destroyed 33 percent targets; B-2’s flew 44-hour mission in Afghanistan – longest in air combat mission history, and; one GPS delivered by B-2 costs $31,000 whereas one cruise missile delivered by land, sea or air costs $1.5 million.

The long-range stealth bomber surely is the strategic weapon platform of the future. US has already proven prototype of unmanned Fighter far superior to manned Fighters. The Long Range Bomber too would perhaps be in both variants. That is why the US is raising 5th Armed Service of Pilots for operating unmanned Fighters and Bombers. These 90-100 Long Range Bombers are obviously part of a two-pronged attack on their adversary, not only interdicting land lines of communication but also matching any shore based aircraft or missile attacks in the Indo-Pacific keeping in mind future Chinese CBG deployments, besides making deep strikes elsewhere.

China’s Chengdu J-20 twin engine fifth generation stealth fighter commenced test flights in January 2011 with subsequent prototypes undergoing improvements. Eventually, on 13 September this year a new prototype was test flown which is assessed to have more engine power (advanced derivative of the Russian AL-31 or Chinese WS-10 turbofan engines) and more reduced radar signatures. The fuselage contains more of engine’s surface area inside the stealthy fuselage, which would provide greater rear stealth for the J-20 against enemy radar.

India and Russia agreed in early 2007 to jointly develop a fifth generation fighter – termed Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) or the Perspective Multi-role Fighter (PMF) project…

There has been speculation that when the designs of America’s Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightening II were hacked into in 2009, the cyber attack originated from China. This technology has possibly been used in the Chendu J-20.

China plans to fly the J-20 with the 18-19 ton WS-15 engine by 2020, enabling it to super-cruise without using afterburners. The J-20’s potential for development into a high performance stealth aircraft is being compared to the F-22 Raptor, given appropriate engines.

Looking at India, India and Russia agreed in early 2007 to jointly develop a fifth generation fighter – termed Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) or the Perspective Multi-role Fighter (PMF) project but has been plagued by delays, costs overrun, and unsteady technology. In 2014, a prototype of the plane caught fire during a demonstration flight for technical evaluation.

In January 2015, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar had said that that many of the differences have been resolved and decision has been taken to fast-track the issues to avoid further delays. Andrey Marshankin, Regional Director of International Cooperation at the united Russian-Indian aircraft manufacturing company Sukhoi/HAL had said, “We and our Indian colleagues have completed the creation of the export version of the [Sukhoi] PAK FA, known in India as FGFA. We already have documents and understanding of the scope of the next phase of design, the scale of future production.”

The PMF is to be introduced in the IAF by 2022 if there are no more delays.

The Russian version of the plane will be operated by one pilot, whereas the IAF prefers a two-seater plane facilitating simultaneously manoeuvre and attack the enemy. Issues about engine, stealth technology and weapon carrying capability too reportedly remain. India is also insistent on Russia restoring its workload in the USD10.5 billion developmental program after recently reducing it from 25% to 13% without consultations. India is to pay 50% of the projected costs.

The Russian Air Force is set to receive the derivative version of the FGFA, the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA within 2015 and 55 x T-50 jets over the next four years. The Indian PMF is to reportedly include combat avionics, stealth, super-cruise, and sensors improvements over the T-50 PAK FA.

The PMF is to be introduced in the IAF by 2022 if there are no more delays.

India had downsized its original demand from 200 to 144 in 2012. Now there are rumours of only about five squadrons to be equipped with the PMF. The picture will likely be clearer after PM Modi’s forthcoming visit to Russia in December. Meanwhile, import of the 36 x Rafale ex France appears bogged down. But what worries the IAF is that the number of current active fighter squadrons (35) is seven below the sanctioned strength of 42, and by 2022, IAF will have around just 25 squadrons, thereby losing even the slight edge over rival neighboring nation, as brought out by the Standing Committee on Defence to Parliament in April this year. Sure the Tejas are being inducted in large numbers but the question is how many annually, since fielding is yet to commence. Then they also are not stealth and shall we say only partly indigenous with 60 percent assemblies and parts being imported.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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One thought on “Stealth Bomber – picking the best

  1. sir with due respect i would like to draw your attention on a mistake which you , i believe have committed unknowingly while producing this article. In paragraph number 6, line 10 you have mentioned “B-52 is the world’s only stealth bomber capable of undetected missions in enemy territory” as far as my knowledge of B52 goes it is not a stealth bomber,developed in the year 1952, it is a just another bomber like the TU-95. I look forward hearing back from you.

    regards

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