NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
The Pentagon announced last week it is developing a new strategic bomber that will carry both nuclear and conventional weapons, as both China and Russia are engaged in similar stealth bomber programs. The U.S. bomber, currently named Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, eventually will be called the B-3 when the first aircraft are deployed in the mid-2020s.
The high-priced bomber is needed to replace aging B-52 and B-1 bombers and augment the small fleet of B-2s.
Northrop Grumman, which builds the stealth drone known as the RQ-180, won an initial $21.4 billion contract for 21 of the aircraft, each of which are expected to cost over $500 million. A hundred bombers eventually will be built.
Most of the features of the bomber remain secret. However, defense and military sources said the bomber will be the most advanced strike aircraft in the world, with features that are expected to far exceed past bomber capabilities for air-launched precision-guided bombs and missiles.
For the new bomber, military sources say it will also include a combination of intelligence-gathering gear and long-range sensors that can transfer the data to onboard weapons to be launched in rapid, pinpoint strikes.
Also, initial versions will be piloted, and more advanced versions are expected to include unmanned drone versions.
Other possible weapons on the bomber could include laser guns for use against aircraft, missiles and eventually ground targets.
Additionally, with rapid growth of global cyberwarfare capabilities, the bomber is expected to be used as a cyberweapons platform with the ability to conduct remote and long-range cyberattacks on key facilities, such as other military command and control systems.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said in announcing the bomber contract: “The capabilities of the LRS-B will ensure the United States is able to hold any target on the globe at risk, while providing our combatant commanders critical operational flexibility across the full range of military operations.”
The bomber will be designed to penetrate increasingly advanced air defenses of foreign adversaries as well as providing nuclear weapons deterrence to allies, he added.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula said he strongly supports the decision to build the new bomber, which was canceled in 2009 as it took “way too long to make” due to red tape and procurement rules.
“The ability to strike targets anywhere in the world at any time to net strategic effects is a core U.S. national security capability unique to the Air Force’s long-range strike force,” Gen. Deptula told Inside the Ring. “However, with 87 percent of the country’s bomber inventory fielded before modern stealth technology, the country is exceedingly reliant upon just a handful of B-2s to reach the world’s hardest targets.”
Meanwhile, China is engaged in building a new stealth bomber that has been identified in some Chinese military websites as the H-18.
That program, like the Air Force bomber, remains one of Beijing’s deepest secrets. The bomber is expected to be fielded around the same time as the U.S. B-3.
A model of the new Chinese stealth bomber was recently shown on the military website Top81 Dingsheng, with the Chinese characters for the bomber called “Divine Eagle.”
Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said both China and Russia have advanced bomber programs, but that Moscow appears to have temporarily shelved its new bomber in favor of restarting production of Tu-160 Blackjack bombers.
“China’s Xian Aircraft Corp. is developing a new strategic bomber that may be a ‘flying wing’ design called H-20,” he said, based on Asian government sources. The bomber could be deployed by 2020. “In addition, China may be working on a new supersonic theater bomber, sometimes called H-18, but much less is known about this program,”
China-Iran air force cooperation
U.S. intelligence agencies are closely watching what appears to be growing cooperation between Chinese and Iranian air forces.
With the conclusion of the Vienna deal on Iran’s nuclear program, China appears to be rapidly moving to sell additional military weapons and equipment to Tehran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said last week he expects sanctions against Iran to be lifted by the end of the year.
However, Tehran appears to have violated a United Nations ban on missile tests last month.
China state-run television and Iran’s official news agency reported Nov. 2 that People’s Liberation Army Air Force commander Gen. Ma Xiaotian met Iranian air force commander Brig. Gen. Hassan Shahsafi on Sunday to discuss increasing cooperation. The Iranian news agency said Gen. Shahsafi’s visit was an opportunity to expand cooperation between the Iranian and Chinese army and air forces.
The Iranian general said he would like greater interaction with China’s air force and “effective measures to raise combat readiness of the army and air forces of Iran and China.”
The expanded ties will include deeper cooperation in unspecified areas as well as in the area of military training.
The visit of the Iranian general set off speculation in U.S. military circles that the Iranians are seeking Chinese arms, including jet fighters to replace Iran’s outdated air force, as well as Chinese air defense systems.
China on Oct. 1 held a major military parade in Beijing to showcase its new missiles and other weaponry. Included during the parade was the new ship-mounted HQ-10 missile system used for anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses. China remains one of the world’s most significant arms proliferators, having provided nuclear warhead technology and missiles to Pakistan for decades.
Despite international sanctions on Tehran, China has been a major supplier for Iran’s weapons, including Silkworm and C-802 anti-ship missiles and know-how for Iran’s medium-range Shahab missiles. Much of Iran’s air defenses and radar also is Chinese in origin.
Beijing also was an initial supplier for Iran’s nuclear program.
North Korea boasts of threatening new ICBM
North Korean state-run media last week warned that Pyongyang has developed a new and more effective variant of the KN-08 mobile strategic missile.
A Pyongyang-controlled website reported Oct. 30 that the new version of the KN-08 displayed during a recent military parade is capable of conducting deep penetrating nuclear strikes, and can avoid U.S. missile defenses.
The article, headlined “The Might of the North’s New-Type Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Hwasong-14,” stated that details of the missile were reported by a South Korean web site that was not identified.
The North Korean article states that strategic missiles are difficult to intercept in the atmosphere but are vulnerable to strikes during their flight through space.
Additionally, the new missile is said to fly at extremely high speeds, making it very difficult to track with radar and other sensors.
“A high stratosphere re-entry speed makes the warhead’s ability to penetrate underground so much stronger,” the report stated. “In other words, the United States’ underground nuclear missile bases, underground evacuation facilities and underground command posts may be defenseless against the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile.”
“The best way to destroy underground facilities is to have nuclear bombs capable of penetrating deep underground by any means,” the report said. “The Hwasong-14 has the optimum shape that gives it the might powerful enough to penetrate deep underground and finish it all.”
The North Koreans are urging the United States to conclude a peace agreement and that “foot-dragging” in improving relations between Washington and Pyongyang “will make the North stronger and push the United States and its following forces deeper into a crisis.”
The article appeared on Uriminzokkiri.com, a Shenyang, China-based web site targeting overseas audiences that is controlled by North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea United Front Department.
Adm. William Gortney, commander of the U.S. Northern Command in charge of defending against long-range North Korean missile attacks, said he believes Pyongyang is capable of striking the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile.
“I agree with the intel community that we assess that they have the ability, they have the weapons, and they have the ability to miniaturize those weapons, and they have the ability to put them on a rocket that can [reach] the homelands,” Adm. Gortney said in a speech Oct. 7.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.