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US Military Working On 'Optionally-Manned' Bomber 278

Posted by Soulskill
from the contract-paid-by-skynet dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Despite massive budget deficits, the U.S. military is working towards a stealthy and 'optionally-manned' bomber capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The craft is intended to replace the 1960s B-52, 1970s B-1 and 1990s B-2 bombers. The new aircraft is meant to be a big part of the U.S. 'pivot' to the Pacific. With China sporting anti-ship weapons that could sink U.S. carriers from a distance, a new bomber is now a top priority."
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US Military Working On 'Optionally-Manned' Bomber

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  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Monday February 27, 2012 @03:41PM (#39176251)

    So, more crew than a cruise missile? Multiple targets like a MIRV, ability to recall, and no (pilot/crew) lives at risk... what's not to like?

    • The audio system is a bit tinny, I hear, but the nav system is to die for.

    • by Doc Ruby (173196)

      The price is not to like. The Pentagon should pay for this new system by deleting some other system. In fact the Pentagon should delete more expenses than this one is currently pretended to cost, to accommodate the inevitable cost overruns of the new system.

      We are spending far more than what our security needs to cost us. If we really do have a new "highest priority", the Pentagon should cut enough of its lower priorities to pay for it.

  • by Coldeagle (624205) on Monday February 27, 2012 @03:43PM (#39176279)
    Drones I can understand, they're primarily detailed to doing surveillance or limited to small munitions, but now we're talking about a full bomber that could be remote controlled? Seriously? There's nothing that can't be hacked! If it's controllable by something outside of the craft itself, it is vulnerable to hacking! Oh let's give enemies the opportunity to hack our BOMBERS, with a Nuclear option no less!
    • by Coldeagle (624205)
      Oh and one more thing, think about this folks...the PS3 was hacked by a bunch of talented guys doing it in their FREE TIME . Imagine what they could have done if they were paid to hack into something like a remote control bomber as a full time job!?!
      • With given differences in the modes of access [to the hardware] there really is no comparison.
        • by Coldeagle (624205)
          PS3 may be a bad example, but hey Iran has physical access to one of our drones. Who's to say that they couldn't figure some one of getting access to the machine or the broadcasting equipment? When you have something that has the ability to bring death and destruction on a massive scale, you don't remote control it. Even the ICBM's we used to have weren't remote controlled, you programmed the things to go where they were going to go and push the button. That's it no fuss no muss, no chance of an enemy getti
      • by SJHillman (1966756) on Monday February 27, 2012 @03:59PM (#39176573)

        First of all, even consumer grade electronics require you to have physical access to the machine to hack it if it's properly set up. Something this expensive is going to have numerous measures to prevent enemies from gaining physical access in the first place, such as self-destruct. This is why the episode of BSG where they didn't want to network the systems together because of the Cylons hacking in remotely is so laughable (it would take a single firewall rule in that case... deny all incoming traffic) - there's consumer grade encryption available that far exceeds the capability of the most advanced military computers to crack within a practical amount of time. You would only be able to hack these things while they're in the air, and as long as you're within range of it. It's not like a server that's available 24/7 in one spot for you to brute force.

        Secondly, I would expect military grade equipment to be fail-secure. That is, even if they did gain physical access, it would brick itself rather than allowing someone to make changes. I would really, really hope start of the art military hardware is more secure than a simple PS3. Not saying it can't be done, just saying you sound like the media hyping it up with FUD that doesn't come close to the real world.

        • by Coldeagle (624205)
          Remember that the Predator drones broadcast their signals in the clear at first.

          Military grade doesn't always mean smart.

          I was using the PS3 as a general example not as a good one lol.

          Here's an example [slashdot.org] of the problem with unmanned drones that don't always carry weapons.
          • The Predator does broadcast surveillance footage unencrypted, but that's entirely different to it's control system, which is a directional satellite feed inaccessible from the ground (and encrypted). Surveillance footage is broadcast for the benefit of local ground forces, so they can get intelligence direct from the aircraft overhead in realtime.

        • by Unequivocal (155957) on Monday February 27, 2012 @04:10PM (#39176737)

          If it were this easy, CIA and .mil wouldn't air gap so many networks. Even so they are vulnerable to hacking.

          Also, it seems like the drone that crash landed is Iran had self-destruct mechanisms which didn't work. I'm not saying Iran's claim to have hacked the drone is very credible, but even so, they should have collected a bunch of burned wreckage, not a largely intact, high value, stealth drone.

          Third, remember that for a long time (and maybe even to this day) drone camera footage is beamed down from satellites to the drone operators in the US on *unencrypted channels.* The military is frequently lagging industry on digital security issues.

        • by Doc Ruby (173196)

          And that's why Iran never captured one of our drones.

        • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Monday February 27, 2012 @04:45PM (#39177249) Homepage

          This is why the episode of BSG where they didn't want to network the systems together because of the Cylons hacking in remotely is so laughable

          It's a little less laughable when you consider that the Cylons owned most of the electronics manufacturing business on the twelve colonies.

          (it would take a single firewall rule in that case... deny all incoming traffic)

          That's a nice thought, but it doesn't help when your firewall switches to "allow all" once it sees the right magic packet. Which is exactly what happened in the pilot episode.

          there's consumer grade encryption available that far exceeds the capability of the most advanced military computers to crack within a practical amount of time

          There sure is. But all it takes is one little "mistake" to turn it from unbreakable into child's play [debian.org].

          Imagine a world where one company in, say, China makes more than half of the world's consumer electronics, including parts used for high security applications. In such a world it would be easy to see why people lie awake at night dreaming of Ken Thompson style hacks [bell-labs.com].

      • As I just posted in reply to your original post...

        I highly doubt that anyone is going to be able to order one of these bombers from Amazon for the explicit purpose of hacking it. Regardless of how talented you are, you still need a substantial amount of access to something in order to ascertain its weaknesses.

        In other words, would the PS3 still have been hacked if all the hackers had access to was the data flowing over the Internet connection for 8 hours at a time? I doubt it.

      • by Zaatxe (939368)
        The people that hacked the PS3 had actual access to the hardware and most of its technology isn't classified. I believe it made the hacking easier.
      • by Jonner (189691) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:48PM (#39178073)

        Oh and one more thing, think about this folks...the PS3 was hacked by a bunch of talented guys doing it in their FREE TIME . Imagine what they could have done if they were paid to hack into something like a remote control bomber as a full time job!?!

        You need to be careful when using a term with such diverse meanings as "hack." The "hacking" of the PS3 you refer to is some people gaining control over their own machines in their possession. Normally, we refer to this as "using" the machine. The fact that the gaining full control over one's own property is now a challenge and considered remarkable is a sad thing indeed.

        Gaining control over a remote machine flying through the air at hundreds of miles an hour thousands of feet in the air is a totally different prospect. The USAF has the ability to employ multiple hardware as well as software security measures. They can communicate with their machines via narrow beams transmitted from satellites. On the software side, cryptographic security can actually work when the secret keys remain secret, something which is impossible to guarantee when the attacker has access to the hardware.

    • If it helps, they won't be armed with nukes unless we're trying to intimidate China, for whom stealing nuclear weapons would not be a top priority. If you think there's not still a cold war going on, you must be some kind of human being, and not a politician.

      • If we load a few up with nukes and fly 'em towards China, who says China will be the ones doing the stealing? The things have wings and can fly other places. It's a generally bad idea.
    • by vlm (69642)

      Maybe that's a feature not a bug for the false flag operation to fan the (profitable) flames of war... Someone from Lebanon blew up the other guy's political party convention by taking over onw of our own remotely piloted bombers? Well, we gotta go invade Iran now. Oh you want the details of how they did it? Sorry thats classified citizen, now you're either with us or you're against us...

    • A remotely controlled armed weapon should only use a one time pad for secure communications as that is provably secure (or rather as provably secure as putting a pilot in a plane since ground crews could be subverted to steal the pad). Then the threat model is reduced from controlling the aircraft to DOS and other jamming techniques, which is much more acceptable (considering the plane could be designed to self destruct if a watchdog signal is not received).

    • by Jonner (189691)

      Drones I can understand, they're primarily detailed to doing surveillance or limited to small munitions, but now we're talking about a full bomber that could be remote controlled? Seriously? There's nothing that can't be hacked! If it's controllable by something outside of the craft itself, it is vulnerable to hacking! Oh let's give enemies the opportunity to hack our BOMBERS, with a Nuclear option no less!

      Friendly fire is currently a big source of US casualties and the right application of automation can decrease it. Current cruise and ballistic missiles can already be remotely controlled. I'm sure the "optionally manned" part is to allow future military leaders to choose the appropriate tradeoffs.

      • by Coldeagle (624205)
        Think of it like this, if it's remotely controlled once, probably not a big issue because I'm assuming that they're only operated for a short window of time in which it's hard to analyze the signals. If you're using a bomber on a long range mission, you're allowing people to monitor the signals for hours and hours. That gives people the ability to track and monitor the signals for holes and/or patterns. Not to mention DoS attacks. Oh and how stealthy could something be with a transceiver with enough bandwid
        • Current generation drones are usually controlled by satellite feeds - the drone sends responses back to the controller via tight beam to the satellite, so it's still very stealthy and not very susceptible to interference or jamming as you need to get between the aircraft and satellite to jam it.

          • by Coldeagle (624205)
            Or if another space faring nation like Russia or China decide to pop something special into space (granted not likely, but also not outside the realm of probability) to block signals or intercept them?
    • by alen (225700)

      the missiles can be launched from thousands of miles away, not like it has to fly over the bomb zone on every mission

      the hackers will probably need to be close to the bomber which is going to be very hard considering that the trip is over the pacific, the north pole, russia or some combination.

    • by j-pimp (177072) <zippy1981.gmail@com> on Monday February 27, 2012 @03:55PM (#39176513) Homepage Journal

      Drones I can understand, they're primarily detailed to doing surveillance or limited to small munitions, but now we're talking about a full bomber that could be remote controlled? Seriously? There's nothing that can't be hacked! If it's controllable by something outside of the craft itself, it is vulnerable to hacking! Oh let's give enemies the opportunity to hack our BOMBERS, with a Nuclear option no less!

      Perhaps that's why its optionally manned. If their going to bomb Russia or china, they might man it. If they are going to perform surveying and dropping MREs after a disaster on a humanitarian mission, then they might chose not to man it. Also, the event of a suicide mission, where the Bomber is almost guaranteed to be lost, they can fly it unmanned, ensure it will self destruct.

      • by skids (119237)

        I think they are just calling optionally manned because they accidentally built the cockpit on top of some of the bomb bay doors.

    • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Monday February 27, 2012 @03:59PM (#39176589)

      There's nothing that can't be hacked! If it's controllable by something outside of the craft itself, it is vulnerable to hacking! Oh let's give enemies the opportunity to hack our BOMBERS, with a Nuclear option no less!

      At the end of the decade long project, I could sign off on the security/reliability of an electro/mechanical (including software) system to be 100% fail-safe LONG before I could make such assertions about a human crew.

      It's just that we've been refining human based loyalty systems for millenia, whereas nearly all computer systems to-date have been schedule-compressed out the door before they're fully tested, often before they're even fully specified. Put the same number of man-hours into developing a pilotless bomber control system that we have put into developing and executing our nuclear launch officer recruitment, screening, training and surveillance operations, and you could have the same level of confidence in the system.

      Of course, that would require over a decade in development - and lots and lots of talent that's highly valuable for things other than delivering nuclear weapons... seems like what we really need is an education system that produces more of these people.

    • Good luck hacking something that you have no access to on a regular basis - seriously, I agree with you in that anything can be hacked, but you have to have a decent amount of access to something in order to actually discover the weaknesses, which I doubt can happen over the course of a single mission for one of these things (even assuming that the control interface link doesn't use rotating encryption keys).

      Yes, we have reports of Taliban groups intercepting video streams from current surveillance drones,

    • by iamhassi (659463)

      Drones I can understand, they're primarily detailed to doing surveillance or limited to small munitions, but now we're talking about a full bomber that could be remote controlled? Seriously? There's nothing that can't be hacked! If it's controllable by something outside of the craft itself, it is vulnerable to hacking! Oh let's give enemies the opportunity to hack our BOMBERS, with a Nuclear option no less!

      They should just put a little studio apartment in the drone bomber and let the guy live there a few weeks at a time. Fly it from the ground and if something goes wrong he can take over.... actually that's not a bad idea, he can nap on the plane while someone else flies from the ground. Huh, I started this as a joke but why not? "Radio Control this is Alpha Drone, I'm gonna play some PS3 you guys got this for awhile?"

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      I guess they will be manned on nuclear missions.

    • by poity (465672)

      Conventional payload - might be unmanned
      Nuclear payload - you bet your ass it will be manned

      that's why it's "optionally-manned"

    • Actually, it's more dangerous than that. An attacker wouldn't necessarily need to hack and gain control access to the bomber, they would only need to disrupt it's sensors / communications channel such that the drone is unable to navigate (or indeed, even basic functioning like maintaining airspeed would be impaired). The stakes are much higher than in Iran when your drone is now armed with nuclear cargo.
    • by demachina (71715)

      This bomber probably doesn't have to be remotely controlled in the unmanned mode. If they are attacking a fixed target the coordinates can be preprogrammed on the ground and the mission can be flown autonomously. In this mode it would be very hard to hack. The thing most vulnerable to hacking/jamming is GPS though that isn't trivial to do, and you can have intertial, digitial elevation or star based navigation as a backup though those lack the precision.

      Remote control is only needed for moving targets and

    • They have had remote control capabilities with fighter jets for a while. Ever seen the video of a fighter shooting down another to test a new missile system? And no, the pilot doesn't eject because the canopy is still intact before the missile hits. This remote capability is not for real world war applications but for testing it works just fine. And I thought we already had a pilotless nuclear bomber called an ICBM.

  • Cost? Hah. (Score:4, Funny)

    by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Monday February 27, 2012 @03:44PM (#39176301)

    FTFA:

    Then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates suspended the bomber development in 2009, citing out-of-control cost and technical ambition.

    Soon thereafter, current Secretary Leon Panetta gave the relevant committee members a few good, hard slaps, and they all woke up, shuddered, and went back to shoveling money into the bottomless maw.

  • Good Lord (Score:2, Funny)

    by Stargoat (658863) *

    Good Lord, now that China has developed 3rd generational warfare capabilities [wikipedia.org], we might need to redevelop some of the tools we used to defeat the Soviet Union, which was also using 3rd generational warfare capabilities. Oh wait......

    Dumb.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      we might need to redevelop some of the tools we used to defeat the Soviet Union

      Money? Because you will need to somehow develop much more of that if you want to beat China.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday February 27, 2012 @03:47PM (#39176357)
    I see another layer of avoiding responsibility for casualties emerging here. Ignoring the technology's effectiveness or benefits, the industrial-military complex has never been good at taking responsibility.

    They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
    They were depriving us of their valuable resources.
    Those people were [insert hate group here].
    They allowed themselves to be used as human shields.
    Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

    I envision that in the future, innocent people will be killed and new excuses will be created and they will say it was because their biometrics matched that of the target, or that there was an error in the targeting system, or that they made a hostile gesture at the killing machine that was 'innocently' going about it's business above his house. But never do I expect to see them come straight out and say "We screwed up. Sorry."

    No matter how great the technology is, what I want to here isn't about how efficient it is, but how human the people pushing the buttons are. If someone is hurt or killed that wasn't supposed to be, will they admit it? Will they compensate the victim? The families? The rest of the community that was deprived of the loss? Until that happens, all that this new technology will mean is more creative ways for bureuacracy to avoid responsibility, which is, afterall, its primary function.

    If war was no more complicated than two societies who couldn't resolve their differences each sending a certain number of soldiers to be incinerated in some machine located on an island, and the country with the biggest number won, then I suspect war would be a lot less common. All these layers of technology and rationalization takes away from the fact that is all war is. Technology just means we have to sacrifice fewer to the machine than the other team does.
    • by djdanlib (732853)

      Well, you know what, you have a point there. Back in the days before explosive projectile weapons, when men had to use daggers and swords and spears and javelins, it was a lot more personal and you didn't really have much of an excuse if you slaughtered an entire village or city. Of course, nobody was left to punish you, but that's beside the point. The farther removed you are from the actual killing, the less of an emotional impact it has. I remember seeing a chart, where the ultimate impact was when you k

      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday February 27, 2012 @04:13PM (#39176795)

        If an act of killing has so little impact, there is theoretically so little mental resistance to performing the act. There are exceptional people out there who consider the ramifications, but they aren't likely to be the majority.

        The overwhelming majority of people responsible for carrying out the final act of ending another human life know it. Whether it's at the end if a knife, or the end of a thousand miles of cable, they know exactly what they just did, and feel it intensely. Those are not the people I am concerned with.

        It's the people who have spent their entire lives as upper/ruling class, and who are surrounded with others who provide complex rationalizations for killing, the people who eventually enact the legislation, framework, and power to compel the people at the end of the chain to commit those acts. People who commit those acts knowing that if they don't push the button they could spend the rest of their lives jailed, or be executed for disobeying the order... they aren't the problem. It's those at the top, who ceased viewing people as valuable and instead view them as a means to an end.

        This technology means that fewer people will feel that emotional burden of having taken a life, while more will feel justified in having ordered those fewer people to do it. That's the problem: It's not the button pusher at the bottom but the mouth breather at the top. If he had to die for the interests he would send others to die for, then war would be much less common. People wouldn't kill others for trivial things. When we make the process of killing so automated that those outside the process are completely unaware of it, then the risk of one of those mouth breathers at the top using it to satisfy their own emotional needs at the expense of the lives of others becomes too high.

        • by djdanlib (732853)

          The bureaucracy aspect of war is nothing new, though. Throughout history we've had kings and dictators and presidents who "went to war", doing exactly what you're saying. The only thing that's new here is the weapon. I'm considering the vehicle in this case a weapon, or perhaps a meta-weapon. It used to be that you weren't involved with the weapon if you were miles away.

          People will kill other people without much thought (or will at least feel justified in doing so) if the other people have been dehumanized

        • It's the people who have spent their entire lives as upper/ruling class, and who are surrounded with others who provide complex rationalizations for killing, the people who eventually enact the legislation, framework, and power to compel the people at the end of the chain to commit those acts...It's those at the top, who ceased viewing people as valuable and instead view them as a means to an end.

          You mean, the people who use terms like "collateral damage?" Yeah, I'm with you. My first thought on reading this headline was, "Awesome. Let's invent yet more ways to kill each other." Don't get me wrong; I'm certainly not a pacifist. I would have absolutely no qualms about pulling the trigger if someone were to break into my home, threatening my family, for example. I don't even have a problem with a standing military force to protect our nation's borders against anyone who would

        • by Shompol (1690084)

          The overwhelming majority of people responsible for carrying out the final act of ending another human life know it. Whether it's at the end if a knife, or the end of a thousand miles of cable, they know exactly what they just did, and feel it intensely. Those are not the people I am concerned with.

          There is a chasm between hacking someone do death with a stone club and pressing a button knowing that somewhere in some remote country "mission is accomplished". There do exist a handful of conscious people who make the mental connection, but they are far from "overwhelming majority".

          The Manning's video of indiscriminately executing civilians from a helicopter (after some crying for permission) brings the point across.

          The scientific experiment behind it is theMilgram Experiment [wikipedia.org]: "What made more of a

    • If war was no more complicated than two societies who couldn't resolve their differences each sending a certain number of soldiers to be incinerated in some machine located on an island, and the country with the biggest number won, then I suspect war would be a lot less common. All these layers of technology and rationalization takes away from the fact that is all war is.

      Or war would be more common with no physical destruction or other lingering signs of war. In either case, congratulations, you've just described the premise of the Star Trek (TOS) episode: A Taste of Armageddon [wikipedia.org] from 1967.

      ... the entire war between the two planets is completely simulated by computers which launch wargame attacks and counterattacks, then calculate damage and select the dead. Citizens reported as "killed" must submit themselves for termination by stepping inside a disintegration booth.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      All they do now is declare that whoever died was a 'terrorist', 'militant', or 'insurgent', knowing full well that journalists and the American public will swallow that without any difficulties. In a related point, they also seem to have successfully convinced most Americans that the protests in Afghanistan is all over the burning of Korans, whereas if you read reports from journalists who actually talked to protesters, the primary motivation for most of them is US drones killing Afghan children and the Kar

    • by Jonner (189691)

      I see another layer of avoiding responsibility for casualties emerging here. Ignoring the technology's effectiveness or benefits, the industrial-military complex has never been good at taking responsibility.

      They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      They were depriving us of their valuable resources.

      Those people were [insert hate group here].

      They allowed themselves to be used as human shields.

      Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

      All of the above has happened numerous times in the past and will continue to happen regardless of the types of weapons used in war.

      I envision that in the future, innocent people will be killed and new excuses will be created and they will say it was because their biometrics matched that of the target, or that there was an error in the targeting system, or that they made a hostile gesture at the killing machine that was 'innocently' going about it's business above his house. But never do I expect to see them come straight out and say "We screwed up. Sorry."

      Indeed, those in charge are unlikely to admit making mistakes. They will use whatever excuse they can, which may vary depending on circumstances like the weapons technology.

      No matter how great the technology is, what I want to here isn't about how efficient it is, but how human the people pushing the buttons are. If someone is hurt or killed that wasn't supposed to be, will they admit it? Will they compensate the victim? The families? The rest of the community that was deprived of the loss? Until that happens, all that this new technology will mean is more creative ways for bureuacracy to avoid responsibility, which is, afterall, its primary function.

      The primary function of a bureaucracy is to perpetuate itself. It will take responsibility for something perceived positive and avoid responsibility for something perceived negative. As citizens, we need to

    • by Mitreya (579078)

      I envision that in the future, innocent people will be killed and new excuses will be created

      Innocent people are already being killed. It may not be happening in US quite yet, but the number of civilian casualties and children from drone strikes in all those "-stans" is already quite high. There is some debate on exactly how many casualties there were. The humanitarian organizations and observers vary in estimates. The White House position is somewhere between "there are no drone programs" and "precision of drones/intelligence is so awesome that they never kill bad people".
      I suppose any polit

  • Whenever I see such headlines or summaries "With China sporting anti-ship weapons that could sink U.S. carriers from a distance," I have to cry foul: Stop outsourcing our industrial base to China! Developing a new bomber will require us to buy more crap (parts, desktop stuff for offices of new bomber project) from China. And to do this when we have no money, we will have to borrow more money from China. It is all insane and wonder what top men at DC and at corporations are thinking.
  • See, sending most of our production capacity over to China was part of a brilliant deep game. We're not hamstringing ourselves and guaranteeing systemic unemployment for the next generation, we're making sure we have another Cold War, and the glory days of the US defense industry will be /back/, baby!

    *Now* we have need of long-range stealth bombers, ICBMs, aircraft carriers, and the whole shebang.

    Probably too much to hope that we'll have another space race to get us motivated to get out to Mars, though.

  • Already done. Deploys from an aircraft carrier, carries 5000 lbs of bombs. Looks like a B2.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_Grumman_X-47B [wikipedia.org]

    • by DesScorp (410532)

      Already done. Deploys from an aircraft carrier, carries 5000 lbs of bombs. Looks like a B2.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_Grumman_X-47B [wikipedia.org]

      That's a Navy project. After the F-4 and A-7... both initiated as Navy projects... USAF basically swore it would never have a Naval aircraft forced on them again. There's a lot of "me-too"ism that goes on in the Pentagon, lots of identity politics and turf warfare over the budget pie and prestige.

      Manned bombers for first strike are obsolete. You send in missiles, or from high altitudes, precision guided ordinance. Then when you've taken out enemy ground based anti-air and gained air superiority with your fi

  • I know it's late (Armageddon was a few years ago) and the wrong country (Russia not China) but at least we're making progress.

    As for the "brains" well I think it's probably going to be Watson speaking to us through his assistant Siri.

  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Monday February 27, 2012 @04:10PM (#39176745) Journal

    It doesn't really sound like a B52 replacement.

    The B52 (and its counterpart, the Tu 95) stopped being a going concern in the face of anything but complete air superiority years ago. Nevertheless they have seen out many bomber designs that were meant to replace them for exactly the same reason.

    Air superiority is difficult and requires things such as stealth, speed and very high speed (i.e. missiles). Those things all have serious tradeoffs. To maintain stealthiness, you have to make all sorts of compromises.

    Once you have air superiority, there is no need to make those compromises any more. The B52 is a large, robust, relatively fule efficient and extremely flexible design, which cas been modified and hacked around with in all sorts of ways. It is still useful because if air superiority is guaranteed it does a better job of hauling a bunch of bombs and stuff around the sky than any other bomber in the fleet. No messing with super high power density jet engines or fickle stealth coating, etc...

    I expect a true B52 replacement would be something more like an adapted airliner or cargo plane.

    There seems to be an obsession in certain areas with stealth. Meanwhile, planes like the B52 and A10 do an exceptionally good job and neither have credible replacements.

    • by Jonner (189691)

      I expect a true B52 replacement would be something more like an adapted airliner or cargo plane.

      There seems to be an obsession in certain areas with stealth. Meanwhile, planes like the B52 and A10 do an exceptionally good job and neither have credible replacements.

      I expect a true B-52 replacement to be an upgraded B-52, as has been the case for decades. In particular, the current 8 engines should be replaced with 4 modern, efficient, high-bypass designs. It seems the Air Force has been thinking about this since the 70s, but since it's always "about to be replaced" by the something sexier and stealthier, they haven't bothered. Once somebody realizes that a sexier design won't replace it any time soon, the needed upgrades can be done.

      A more modern cargo or passenger de

      • by Nimey (114278)

        A few years ago the Air Force did a study on converting B-52s to four modern airliner engines. ISTR the cost would have been ~$8billion, and it was decided that this wouldn't have been economically worth it - over the expected lifetime of the B-52 fleet they wouldn't have saved that much in fuel, so the idea was shelved.

  • Why not just add another mission to regular passenger planes, and make them bombers, as well? Just make the seats able to hold bombs as well as humans, and add bomb bay doors on the floor. Then instead of just sitting around waiting for a war to start, bombers can haul passengers around the world.

    And, hey, those bomb bay door would speed up de-boarding at the airport as well.

    It would be just important for the pilots to remember if they were hauling bombs to drop in a war zone, or passengers to drop at a

    • Just imagine, all passangers could bring their own bomb! No need for TSA anymore.

    • by Salgak1 (20136)

      Why not just add another mission to regular passenger planes, and make them bombers, as well? Just make the seats able to hold bombs as well as humans, and add bomb bay doors on the floor.

      Humor aside, the addition of a bomb bay is a major change to the structural dynamics of an airframe. There WAS a concept to mod a 747 airframe for use as a cruise missile platform: that would require far less major structural alterations from the baseline B747 design. . .

      Details and a drawing [g2mil.com]

  • is no match for military natural stupidity
  • The great thing is that after the airframes whatever they are going to call this thing are sitting in a desert, stripped of parts, the B52s will probably still be flying.
  • China doesn't need to sink our ships, they just need to unload their US investments and treasuries to make our currency worthless and hyper inflation. While we still build weapons to fight a physical war from the last century, China is in position to cripple the US with a modern day economic war.

  • 1. I feel secure knowing all unmanned bombers' code is totally bug-free.
    2. And no unmanned drone bomber carrying nukes will EVER get hijacked. I mean, look how secure our other drones are.
    3. On an unmanned bomber, who sets up the nuke unlock code? If it gets done over an encrypted radio link how can they guarantee the link won't be jammed?
    4. Which tastes better: Zero Coke, Pepsi Lo-Cesium, or Slurm Cola?

    • I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal.
      I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission.
      And I want to help you.

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:18PM (#39178469) Homepage

    The "optionally manned" bomber sounds like one of those transition craft that appears as a new technology is replacing an old one. A classic example were steamships of the 19th century. Various combinations of paddle wheels, screws, and sails were tried. None of the hybrids were very successful.

    In bombers, the classic example is the B-36, with four jet engines and six propeller engines. The B-36 was a stopgap measure until the all-jet bombers were ready, and was quickly replaced by the B-47 and B-52.

  • "52" stands for 1952, "B" stands for bomber, It was introduced early in the cold war, it is a 1950's plane NOT 1960's.

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