Delivering More Than Bombs: The Utility of Long-Range Strike Platforms
Air University School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Maxwell AFB United States
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Heavy bombers have proven themselves as highly capable weapon systems since their introduction to the USAF in World War II. Rather than analyzing the different capabilities each iteration of bomber possessed over time, this study focuses on the functional characteristics long-range strike aircraft have contributed toward affecting their respective strategic environments. This study offers historical analyses of the B-17, B-52, and B-2 because these aircraft span the gamut of USAF long-range strike airpower. The B-17 became the first truly strategic bomber that enabled crews to attack targets at ranges inaccessible before its conception. The B-52 proved itself as the mainstay of nuclear delivery platforms during the Cold War and still fulfills conventional and nuclear roles today. Finally, B-2 designers produced a radically different platform based on survivability and stealth, capable of delivering multiple types of precision weapons against highly defended targets. The three case studies concentrate on each bombers functionality from development through major combat operations within the context of an evolving strategic environment. The thesis deduces the qualities expected of the future strategic environment spanning the next twenty years. Accordingly, long-range strike aircraft will play a major role within a landscape distinguished by further globalization, major power distribution, and rises of non-state actors. Within this landscape, adversaries will continue to seek asymmetric advantages over legacy US airpower capability. This study concludes by inducing nine functional characteristics the next long-range strike bomber LRS-B should possess to maintain global US power projection. Range, persistence, penetrant strike, flexibility, multi-payload, precision, deterrence, economy of force, and integration will remain vital functionalities for the LRS-B.