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US Military Working On 'Optionally-Manned' Bomber 278

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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  • 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 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.

  • 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 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 lgw ( 121541 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @04:12PM (#39176765) Journal

    The advantage of the ship-mounted bomb-throwers starts on the second week of a war, when you need the cheapest way to get bomb tonnage on target, not the most effective. But I'm not conviced we'll ever do it - aside form the LDS, we seem unable to settle on a new ship design, with the DDX and CGX programs seemingly discarding every cool new idea they come up with.

    I don't know if these new bombers are suppsed to be first-week weapons or not - I guess if they are supposed to replace B2s and cruise missiles they would be, unlike how we currently use B1s and B52s. But B2s have the range to launch from the US and reach any target they need to, without waiting weeks to get the logistics trail in place. I wonder if that's true of these bew bombers?

  • 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 Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <{richardprice} {at} {}> on Monday February 27, 2012 @04:26PM (#39176983)

    All the current heavy bombers of the USAF have the ability to do the long range missions that the B-2 are famous for, and infect the B-1B regularly does (Libya is a good example).

    However, doing those missions still requires a huge support infrastructure to be in place - even the B-2 doesn't carry the fuel load to enable it to hit Iraq from the continental United States without being refueled several times enrolee, which means you still need bases for the KC-135s (or the new replacement) within capable range for a refuelling hookup.

    So yes, these new bombers will have the same reach as the current generation.

  • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:28PM (#39178595)

    No, chinas advantage in this is that they are local, have a huge population, a massive industrial base, control a huge portion of the electronics business (even if they can't utilize it effectively in weapons they deprive their enemies of those supplies), and they are rapidly expanding their technology.

    I don't think the PRC is going to waltz over Taiwan tomorrow. Probably 10 years would be pushing their luck. 25 years from now... harder to say. They're not in this for a short term game, this is a long term play, and they may never find it worthwhile to forcibly reintegrate Taiwan. Not because they can't, in the same way the US could take over canada and mexico and there's bugger all we could do about it. It's that it's not worth the cost to business, trade lost lives etc. The US is playing right into chinas hand with a 'pacific first' strategy, so the PRC can use that to further suppress demand for political freedoms 'those people are just in bed with the americans who are trying to keep our people separate!' sort of nonsense.

    But as a military matter, if they want Taiwan we'll lose. It's 200Km from their shores, they've got us by the balls on trade and manufacturing and the longer they wait the stronger they become, and the relatively weaker the rest of us become.

  • Re:first bomb (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gtall ( 79522 ) on Monday February 27, 2012 @07:30PM (#39179509)

    Yep, a lot of the war time spending was kept off the books if by that you mean the actual budgets passed by Congress, but that does not mean we do not know what it was. The $4T seems to include all the spending, I think is on the high side but that might include ancillary costs like health care for wounded vets going forward.

    What does Bush's failure to balance the budget have to do with Obama's failure to balance the budget? Are you saying that since Bush got away with it, we should give Obama a pass? A lot of conservatives were upset with Bush's failure to balance the budget. Obama created a commission, Simpson-Bowles, which made their recommendations...and Obama ignored it. In fact, he's still ignoring the biggest drains on the budget, i.e., the entitlements. You could take all of Defense's appropriations and still only halve the deficit.

    Republicans are doing with they always do, trying to buy the next election with tax cuts (even keeping Bush's is attempting to buy the next election). The Democrats are doing what they always do, trying to buy the next election with social spending. Both will fail and drive up the deficit. There are no adults left in the room...well, not enough of them anyhow.

"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban