The U.S. Air Force should aim for an operational force of 120 stealth bombers, comprising new Long Range Strike Bombers or a mix of LRS-Bs and B-2s. according to a new study of combat airpower produced by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, while the U.S. Navy should pursue a high-end unmanned combat air system capable of penetrating against advanced air defense threats.
The CSBA issued its report, co-written by former Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance boss Lt Gen Dave Deptula and Mark Gunzinger, on Monday, in support of the influential think-tank's push for a rebalanced defense budget with greater focus on air and seapower. Gunzinger and Deptula plan a full briefing on the report later - and, for the time being, Gunzinger is reluctant to say exactly what would be cut to pay for the new weapons. A front-line force of 120 LRS-Bs would mean building 174 of the new bombers, or 154 if the B-2s are retained, compared with 80-100 LRS-Bs planned today.
The report also comes down in favor of a Navy UCAS that can survive against the toughest threats and perform ISR and deep-strike missions. The definition of the Navy's proposed Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (Uclass) continues to be a source of controversy, with some contractors and Pentagon interests advocating for a less capable but less expensive system tailored for overwater ISR and counter-terror missions. Deptula and Gunzinger also suggest that the Navy could move beyond its goal of having only 4-6 UCAS per aircraft carrier.
In a commentary posted last week, Deptula and Gunzinger argue that the UCAS should have "broadband" stealth - implying a flying-wing configuration - a 4,000 lb weapon load (some low-end Uclass requirements call for a 1,000-pound load), and an unrefueled range twice that of any manned fighter.
The CSBA has yet to talk in detail about what cuts would be made elsewhere to pay for the new stealth platforms. Deptula is a strong F-35 supporter - so despite the emphasis on greater range and broadband stealth, it would be surprising to see the final report recommend cutting that program. The choice would then be to cut land-force budgets - the report states that "breaking old budget apportionment habits would be a step toward creating a balanced combat air force" - or retire non-stealthy fighters, or a combination of the two measures,