Why the U.S. Wants a New Bomber


The U.S. Air Force has struggled for years to develop a new long-range bomber to complement its existing fleet of B-52, B-1 and B-2 bombers dating from the 1960s, ’80s and ’90s, respectively.

The rise of China as a regional power compelled the Air Force, in 2006, to begin design work on a radar-evading “stealth” bomber capable of striking heavily-defended targets within the Chinese heartland from secure American bases in the Pacific. But the basic design of the so-called “Next-Generation Bomber” grew increasingly complex and potentially expensive – reportedly billions of dollars per copy. In 2009, then-U.S. Secretary Robert Gates cancelled the Next-Generation Bomber.

But the Air Force revived its bomber effort under new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The new “Long-Range Strike Bomber” would be slightly less sophisticated and therefore cheaper than the Next-Generation Bomber: just $550 million per copy for up to 100 copies, with production beginning in the early 2020s. The U.S. Congress approved the first $300 million in development funding late last year. The Pentagon has vowed to cancel the Long-Range Strike Bomber if the total projected program cost exceeds $55 billion. Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman will compete for the contract, details of which are a closely guarded secret.

One man has played a central role in building the case for the new bomber. David Deptula retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant general in 2010. In 36 years of service, he flew F-15 fighters, helped plan the air war over Afghanistan in 2001 – including long-range strikes by B-2 bombers – and later oversaw Pacific bomber operations. In a landmark 2004 exercise organized in part by Deptula, B-52s flying from the U.S. struck and sank a decommissioned U.S. Navy ship using “smart” guided weapons. In retirement, Deptula has continued advocating for bombers.

The Diplomat asked Deptula about the need for the bomber, the risks to the program and the technologies that could be included.


Why now? Why, during a period of defense cutbacks, is the Pentagon so determined to build a new bomber? What changed to make the bomber such a high priority?

Broadly speaking, nothing has changed; the need for a new bomber is not “new.” The 2001 [Quadrennial Defense Review] noted the challenges to American power projection that included: the potential for a surprise attack that would prevent U.S. forces from deploying to trouble spots in a timely manner; the dearth of viable U.S. bases within range of likely trouble spots in Asia; and the emergence of “anti-access” capabilities that could deny the U.S. access to overseas bases, airfields and ports.

Furthermore, some potential opponents have great strategic depth within which to hide mobile anti-access systems. To counter this, the 2001 QDR said we should develop and acquire “robust capabilities to conduct persistent surveillance, precision strike and maneuver at varying depths within denied areas” – what is this but a new stealth bomber?

The 2006 QDR restated these challenges to power projection and specifically called for the U.S. to “develop a new land-based, penetrating long-range strike capability to be fielded by 2018 while modernizing the current bomber force.” The 2010 QDR called for an expansion of the nation’s long-range strike capabilities, to include options for “fielding survivable, long-range surveillance and strike aircraft as part of a comprehensive, phased plan to modernize the bomber force.”

The January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance was consistent with [Department of Defense] logic going back 12 years, during which two presidents and three [secretaries of defense] have deemed a new bomber necessary. The guidance again noted the challenges that time, distance and anti-access threats represent to American power projection – certainly, the strategic environment has not become more benign since 2001. The guidance renewed the call for the development of a stealth bomber in order to overcome these challenges.

john mccarthy
December 5, 2013 at 13:33

bombers are passe.why would you need bombers to ward off a chines attack when you have thousands of nuclear weapons on missiles that can strike china .Detente is the best defense we have,it held off russia for over 50 years and could do so with china or anyone else.

Gregg S. Pennington
November 26, 2013 at 08:49

11/25/2013 at 545PM CST. Why not reintroduce an
old design updated with today’s electronics and weapons capabilities ; for less costs !. Consider a
frame design between the B58 Hustler and the XB70
Valkyrie with updated powerplants , electronics and
missiles. And better yet , it’s remotely piloted !
Consider an unpiloted , low flying , stealth design that
can be controlled from a carrier or another aircraft
or a ground station. Your largest expense would be
power plant upgrades and repairs with occasional
stealth and electronics update packages ! Just a thought !

June 20, 2013 at 01:18

ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, if I owe you a hundred dollars you own me. If I owe you a billion, I own you!

sekar guru
January 25, 2013 at 10:50

It's need based & to control the Chinese belligerence.

tony williams
November 5, 2012 at 02:20

The USA are building the new bomber because they are cutting down on their Pacific Fleet, it always comes down to the green back,

Tobias Jove
August 31, 2012 at 03:02

I think it is a must for US to develop long range bombers to effectively bulwark justice, freedom which are existing in Democratic nations. And to effectively destroy the violators of International Laws.

Lauren Garza
August 20, 2012 at 07:11

If anyone thinks that these puppies aren't going to run 3 billion dollar a copy…well, I've got a bomber I can sell you

August 1, 2012 at 13:59

Good question ZTF. Subs are excellent ways to deploy spec ops troops, monitor enemy movements, launch attacks, deploy mines, and launch missiles. As far as tanks are concerned the Striker IFV is better adapted for future wars. 

June 27, 2012 at 20:16

Matthew – the global population is 7 Billion
China's population is 1.1 billion
half of 7 is 3.5, not 1
The US population is approx 313 million which is close to one 20th of the global pop. not 1/5

Whilst the US has the largest per capita and %GDP spend on military a significant amount of this money is spent on redundant systems (Ballistic Missiles??) or wasted on pointless conflicts (Iraq, Afghanistan) or paid to 'allies' to stop them killing US soldiers and to let NATO etc… use their roads (Pakistan, Uzbek, Tadjik)
The issue is that your spend is on the worng type of capabilities that are unlikely to be relevant when facing future conflicts. How will your submarines and tanks stop the Chinese from invading Taiwan with 200,000 soldiers?

June 20, 2012 at 04:51

The "financial crisis" is really terribly overplayed. It's a joke. You're better off thinking of the "national debt" as a record of how much we've managed to rip off China. It's not like they can claim that debt – it would crash their economy. As for our economy, despite all the absolutely ridiculous whining people do, we still have the highest GDP on Earth, and support less than one-fifth it's population, while the second-highest GDP, China, is barely more than half ours, and supports half the world's population.
…I can't believe how whiney people are about the economy, though.
While China is expanding it's military interests to cover ever-larger areas with strategic aims, we have an order of magnitude greater per capita GDP, about twice the overall GDP, and you're saying we don't have enough to handle regional conflicts?

June 20, 2012 at 04:43

If they'd develop a supersonic submarine-launched cruise missile, this could do the trick, if they can design the missile to keep it's long range despite being supersonic, so as to hit inland targets.
It's a big technical challenge to keep Tomahawk-like range at supersonic speeds, but, given that modern SSGN's are converted SSBN's, there's plenty of tube space to fit a rather large, new cruise missile.
But, once again, the author did mention the problem of the number of targets. A sub can hit some targets, but it'll take at least weeks to return and re-arm. An air campaign would still be far more effective on a large scale.

Uriel Fanelli
May 12, 2012 at 05:26

Well, the most important weapon to run a war, is, even sounds strange, money. If your government has a devastated balance, it cannot run even two weeks of war, having bombers or not.

I feel funny how the government believes in a “long-term program” or “strategic view on war” , when the finance status doesn’t permits even a regional conflict.


May 10, 2012 at 10:34

The development of new long range bomber is a great idea with extreme specification that correlates with the air-sea and land battle doctrine against any communist thoughts invaders and it will benefit the united nation members for the common peace of all democratic country…

May 10, 2012 at 01:06

Pray tell, How do you address the problem of targets of opportunity with a submarine launched missile?

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