America's plan for a new drone stealth bomber to fly with the B-21
s air force is now looking to develop a drone stealth bomber that could complement capabilities offered by americas forthcoming b 21 raider now were not talking about some cheap drone. These drone bombers are expected to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 million dollars per aircraft, and they could give the united states a significant advantage in an ear. Pier conflict lets dive into the b 21 raiders new wingman im alex hollings, and this is air power. Now i know weve done a lot of coverage of the ukraine war as of late and, if youre looking for that, we still have tons of it on sandbox news. But this news about the air forces effort to field a new drone wingman for the b 21 was just too big not to cover right now and weve got a lot to discuss so im just going to dive right in during a keynote speech delivered at the Air force associations, 2022 warfare symposium held about three weeks ago, frank kendall. The secretary of the air force, revealed that the us is exploring the idea of an uncrewed stealth bomber platform that would fly missions ahead of the optionally crude b 21 raider to extend upon americas. Deep penetration strike capabilities and hotly contested airspace, this new bomber platform would be expected to have a comparable range to that of the globe spanning bomber with payload capabilities that are probably going to be determined in large part by price. Now theres already been discussion about using attributable drones to support aircraft like the ngad fighter or the b 21 raider.
But attritable is a term usually used to refer to really cheap aircraft and thats, not what were looking at with this new drone stealth bomber. Im gon na go ahead and quote frank. Kendall here were looking for uncrewed systems that cost nominally on the order of at least half as much as the manned systems that were talking about for both ngad and the b 21. Now, at a price point of around half of a b 21 raider that would stick this new aircraft in very expensive company. According to aviation week, northrop grummans b 21 was originally projected to carry a per unit cost of about 511 million dollars which, if you adjust for inflation to todays money, comes out to about 640 million. Now that would mean the air forces. New drone bomber may cost anywhere from 250 to 320 million dollars per aircraft. Now, to give you a sense of scale thats about the same cost as four f 35as. Now these numbers are obviously not set in stone and kendall even pointed out that he would love for them to cost significantly less than half, but that just seems like a reasonable figure. Now kendall did qualify that this bomber concept is more speculative than other secretive programs. Like the next generation air dominance, but he explained that the air force is currently in the concept definition stage of planning for it. In other words, what theyre doing right now is hashing out exactly what capabilities this new drone bomber will need and how best to go about fielding them in comments made after his remarks, kendall spoke to this process, explaining that the ongoing debate really centers around, which capabilities Are found in the b 21 that need to be included or may be omitted from a drone wingman, but an unclassified request for information that the air force released to industry partners does give us an idea of what some of the bare minimum requirements are.
The rfi calls for a new drone stealth bomber that has at least a 4 000 pound payload capacity and a combat radius of a minimum of 1500 miles. But as aviation week steve trimble has pointed out, it seems very likely that this aircraft will have to be able to match the b 21s range in order to serve its purpose as a means of support for these long duration missions. Now, if you dont follow steve trimble on twitter, you absolutely should he is an incredible source for this sort of stuff. This drone stealth bomber effort, as kendall explained, is a classified project. Thats really only going to see acknowledgment and official discourse its otherwise going to operate with very few details revealed to the public, and while we are early in this effort, its clearly moving very quickly. Kendall pointed out that he expects funding for development to begin in 2024, and there may well be reason to move fast. As again steve trimble pointed out on twitter. The stated requirements for this new aircraft follow closely with northrop grummans previous x 47c, which is more than a decade old. Now now this effort aimed to field a stealth drone that was about the size of a b2 spirit and had a 20 000 pound payload capacity. They were building off of their previous successes that they had with the x, 47a and b, but now thats, not to say that the x 47c will just be adopted as the b 21 raiders new wingman.
But it does suggest that northrop grumman, who is the primary contractor on the b 21 itself, may be well positioned to lead this new effort as well, but theyre, not the only ones. Boeing is also no stranger to the flying wing. Ucav concept and boeings x. 45D was actually once set to compete with the x 47c for an operational contract, and it could honestly also fit the bill. The x 45d was expected to boast a 20 000 payload capacity, also and public statements at the time touted its ability to deliver as many as 80 250 pound bombs to targets deep inside contested airspace. Now both of these drones utilized some variation of the flying wing design and if it seems presumptuous of me to assume that this new drone stealth bomber will also be a flying wing, you should know that theres a method to my madness. You see the flying wing design, while not lending itself to extreme maneuverability, is harder to detect on uhf and vhf band radar systems that stealth fighter designs, like the f, 35 and f 22, can usually be picked up on now. These fighters are extremely difficult to target. Using high frequency radars like those used by modern air defense systems, but because of their need for things like vertical tail sections, they remain fairly easy to detect using lower frequency radar bands. Now these low frequency bands are not good for securing a weapons grade lock, but they can be effective, early warning systems or they can be used in conjunction with other types of systems to try to target stealth aircraft.
Despite this popular perception of stealth fighters, as invisible, theyre, obviously not and to be honest, theyre really designed to operate in airspace where the enemy likely expects, or even knows that theyre there but stealth bombers like the b2 spirit and the forthcoming b, 21 raider, as well As this new drone stealth bomber effort are designed to avoid being detected at all so that they can lead the way in the early days of a conflict. Of course, even this flying wing design without the hard angles that are sort of intrinsic to a fighter. Isnt. Exactly invisible to even low band radar, so the b 21 is expected to carry an on board electronic warfare suite that will bolster its ability to tiptoe past these increasingly prevalent vhf band systems. Now, whether or not the b 21s forthcoming drone wingman will also carry this. Electronic warfare capability is very likely one of the things the air force is currently debating. It would obviously give it a great deal more capability on its own, but it could also raise the per unit price beyond that 300 or so million dollar mark that the air force wants to try to keep it under and while were on the topic of cutting Edge electronics. We should also talk about how kendall highlighted that this new drone bomber will leverage technology from both boeings skyborg effort and darpas. Recent ace or air combat evolution program skyborg is an autonomous aircraft. Teaming architecture thats meant to pair crude aircraft, with a constellation of uncrewed drone platforms as support.
Now, these autonomous wingmen will take their cues from the human pilot and serve as sort of an extension of their aircrafts capabilities. Theyll fly ahead and serve as extended sensor nodes theyll, engage targets with their own munitions and theyll, potentially even sacrifice themselves to protect the crude aircraft ill go ahead and quote the air force. Research laboratory about skyborg military pilots receive key information about their surroundings. When teamed aircraft with integrated autonomy, detect potential air and ground threats, determine threat, proximity, analyze, imminent danger and identify suitable options for striking or evading enemy aircraft. Now that quote was obviously in the context of the ngad or next generation air dominance, air superiority, fighter thats. Currently in development, but the premise would obviously work just as well for a deep penetration bomber thats trying to survive all the way through contested airspace to its objective. And then we have the ace program which is headed by the defense, advanced research projects, agency or darpa and its similarly all about pairing human operators with computers, but it takes place entirely inside the cockpit. The air combat evolution program aims to place an advanced, artificial intelligence. Co pilot in the cockpit with our human operators, its sort of the logical extension of existing trends in fighter technology dating back for decades, which have long aimed to automate more and more of the aircrafts operation to allow the pilot to focus on the fight at hand. This time im going to go ahead and quote lieutenant colonel ryan heffron from darpa about the ace program.
Ace creates a hierarchical framework for autonomy in which higher level cognitive functions like developing an overall engagement strategy, selecting and prioritizing targets determining the best weapon for effect, etc. May be performed by a human while lower level functions like details of the aircrafts, maneuver and engagement tactics is left to an autonomous system. Now, if these drone stealth bombers are anything like what were sort of expecting to come out of the ngad family of systems, there may be more than one iteration. Some may specialize in reconnaissance or intelligence gathering. Others may be air to air or air to ground operations, and still others could be electronic warfare suites that you could couple with other aircraft and send into the fight depending on mission parameters. That would be in keeping with the ngad concept of pairing a crude fighter, with a variety of autonomous drones that can assume greater risks than a human piloted aircraft ever could, and in fact that seems to be kendalls new definition of attritable, which used to be only For aircraft that kind of fell between 2 and 20 million dollars per unit now were talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, but still calling these aircraft attributable. Now kendall spoke to this when he said – and i quote, they could also be attributable or even sacrificed. If doing so confers a major operational advantage, something we would never do with a crude platform, in other words the very definition of attritable.
As the air force uses, it seems to be shifting away from just being cheap enough to be sort of disposable to now being uncrewed and therefore technically sacrificable. If a mission calls for it, thats not to say that the air force would use these 300 million dollar drones as kamikazes, but rather that we could send these 300 million dollar drones into operations, that we would never send a b 21 with a crew on board. In, for instance, trying to engage an anti ship missile system on chinese shores that is heavily defended by air defenses and as weve discussed before at sandbox news and on this channel, the b 21 raider may really be the key to americas ability to counter chinas anti Access and area denial strategy in the pacific, chinas arsenal of anti ship missiles, particularly long range hypersonic weapons like the df zf boost glide vehicle, have created a sort of bubble that extends more than a thousand miles from chinese shores that american carriers cant penetrate without being At risk of being sunk, this is a huge challenge for the us navy and for american foreign policy at large, as the navys carrier capable fighters just dont have the range to engage chinese targets from that far out. In other words, neither the block 3 super hornet. Nor the f 35c could reach china without giving china a chance to sink one of americas super carriers, so the globe spanning b 21 would almost certainly play a vital role in the initial days of a conflict with china.
If one ever were to break out stealth bombers would fly thousands of miles, refueling in mid air, to engage anti ship weapon systems on chinese shores and reduce the threat posed to americas, nimitz and ford class carriers. This effort, however, wouldnt, be without huge risks. We already discussed how some sorts of low band radar can usually detect incoming stealth aircraft and a combination of radar and infrared tracking or tracking the heat produced by a stealth jets engines could, for instance, be used to engage a stealth bomber, but there are also new Anti stealth radar systems like bi, static, radars and multi static radars, which separate the radar transmitter from the receiver, and these may reduce the effectiveness of radar reflecting designs and because radar absorbent materials dont fare well under the high heat associated with supersonic flight. Just adding a bunch of speed to a deep penetration bomber like a stealthy, b1b lancer, just isnt a feasible way to improve survivability with a per unit cost thats creeping up towards that one billion dollar mark the air force. Just cant afford to lose very many stealth bombers in the early days of a large conflict and thats, where a substantially cheaper, drone stealth bomber that can fly ahead of the b 21 raider could offer a huge strategic value. Raider crews could use these uncrewed bombers to target anti ship weapons that are too well defended to risk engaging themselves or they could use these drones to engage air defense systems to allow for a safer route to their objective.
Of course, at half the cost of a b 21 were still talking about a drone bomber that costs as much as four f 35s, but again, the f 35 very likely could not reach these targets. To begin with, and this new drone stealth bomber could, at least in theory, theres, actually a lot more about this program that we can discuss and if youre interested ill include a link to the full story with everything i didnt include in this video down below. If youre looking for more coverage on the war in ukraine, weve also got lots of that on sandboxnews.com, including a dive. I recently did into russias war fighting doctrine that shows how some of the failures weve seen in ukraine arent errors in the field, but rather point to actual flaws in their approach to warfare itself. If you guys would like a video on that topic, let me know in the comments below and ill get to work on it and on that ends. Yet another edition of air power from sandbox news, im alex hollings, make sure you swing by sandboxnews.com today and every day for all the latest in news, entertainment and motivation from all around the force. If you got anything out of todays video, please click like and subscribe down below and, as i mentioned leave me a comment. So i know what i should cover next and of course, dont forget to tap on that bell icon.