For years, the Long Range Strike Bomber project has been shrouded in secrecy, likely at Area 51, the Air Force’s top-secret proving ground deep in the Nevada desert. Service leaders say little beyond that they plan to buy 80 and 100 aircraft for about $550 million each, and will award a contract “soon” to either Northrop Grumman or a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team — perhaps at this week’s Air Force Association convention just outside Washington, D.C.SubscribeReceive daily email updates:Subscribe to Defense One Today.Be the first to receive updates. But it’s becoming clear that this bomber will do a lot more than drop bombs. More than just a first-strike weapon, it is expected to be a centerpiece of future U.S. warfare.
The rumor is the announcement will be made tomorrow.
Now, the ability to perform the secondary missions listed in the article is nice, but that’s the thing. They are all decidedly secondary missions. They pretty much all require transmitting. Which, if you’re attempting to penetrate heavily defended airspace is a good way to not be stealthy, and wind up dead.
Interestingly, the LRSB procurement has been run outside the normal Air Force procurement structure, and instead through the Rapid Capabilities Office (sometimes known as The Green Door). RCO does a lot of secret squirrel stuff, mostly related to developing niche capabilities for niche platforms, such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint spy planes. That’s not all they do, but trying to find anyone to talk about what they do is pretty tough beyond vague generalities.
The decision to have LRSB developed by RCO was a calculated risk. The hope is that RCO will stick to proven technologies, and avoid the bloat, and mission creep and growth that plagued other programs, such as the F-22 and F-35.
The downside is, if there are issues, the RCO will be blamed, and regular procurement establishment (which is desperately in need of overhaul) will be inoculated from serious change, claiming they should have been in charge all along.