Naming a new bomber aircraft is the easy and cheap part. Getting it of the ground, into production and into combat is the easy and hard part. But that is exactly where the US Air Force and Northrop Grumman are now at with the newly named B-21 Raider, until now only known as the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) or B-21. It should replace B-1 and B-2 bombers in the next decade or so.
The name ‘Raider’ was chosen out of suggestions made by US military service members and made public on Monday 19 September by 101 year-old World War II bomber pilot Richard E. Cole at the Air, Space & Cyber Conference 2016.
Other than its newly revealed name, the only thing known about the B-21 is that an artist’s impression shows an bomber aircraft that largely resembles a B-2 Stealth bomber. What should be different however, is the price tag. Whereas the B-2 Stealth program resulted in a staggering price tag of 2 billion USD a piece, the current plans are to aqcuire 80 to 100 B-21 Raiders against a price tag of 550 million USD a piece
Yes, so more B-21s than B-2s are to be purchased. But anyone with a bit of aviation and defense knowledge knows that a unit price of 550 million will never be achieved. The actual aircraft will of course end up a lot more expensive, although nobody seems to know or willing to predict how much more expensive it will be. Senator John McCain previously tried to get the Pentagon to divulge more about the total cost.
And that’s a wise thing to request, given the fact that other major weapons program that is the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning, with a total program cost that now stand at roughly 400 billion USD. And that’s costs shared with other nations. The costs of developing and producing the B-21 Raider will definitely not be shared with other nations, given the strategic importance of the program for the US.
The B-21 Raider may well be a raider of US taxpayer’s money before anything else. The hard part, is to not let that happen.
The third edition of Czech-led international Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) exercise Ample Strike kicked off in the Czech Republic this week. For the next three week, no less than seventeen Allied and Partnership for Peace nations train their JTACs, aircrew and ground units in realistic, complex and demanding scenarios.
Ample Strike is aimed at providing realistic training for controllers on the ground in a combat environment. “It offers the perfect venue for effective collaboration between air and ground, forces preparing them to respond to joint missions whenever needed,” said Czech Air Force Commander Jaromir Sebesta. The exercise continues the tradition of similar exercise Ramstein Rover in Germany.
Taking part are a total of 34 aircraft from Lithuania, Slovenia, Germany, Poland, Hungary and the US, plus troops from even more countries. The US sends B-1B and B-52H long range bombers, operating from Fairford airbase in the UK. Most aircraft operate from airbases within the Czech Republic.
Novelty Adding to exercise complexity and a novelty for Ample Strike, are air-to-air refuelling missions during tactical strike and bomber missions. US Air Force KC-135R tankers will refuel
not only the German Tornado jets, Czech and Hungarian Gripen aircraft, but also the US strategic bombers.
Last year, Ample Strike achieved a record 1600 control runs, allowing JTACs to keep up their skills of controlling aircraft in support forces on the ground. In 2016, Ample Strike is not about exceeding this number, but about providing even more complex and challenging integrated scenarios.
Russia this week officially confirmed it has based Tu-22M Backfire bombers at Hamedan airbase in Iran for strike missions over Syria. Pictures show several Backfires being prepared on the ground in surroundings resembling those of the Iranian desert.
Backfires have seen use over Syria a number of times already, supporting forces loyal to president Assad in their fight against rebel forces. A number of videos showed up of the Backfires apparently ‘carpet’ bombing rebel positions, which raises fear of even more civilian casualties in war torn Syria.
Previously, the bombers flew all the way from Russia for missions over the area. Basing the aircraft in Iran allows for much shorter missions.
The basing of the bombers also means Moscow is getting a stronger foothold in the area, which wil be reinforced when the sole Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov supposedly arrives in the Mediterranean this Fall. The ship should bring Ka-52 attack helicopters in theater,m according to sources in Moscow.
The movements are also concerning in light of the flickering conflict in South East Ukraine, where Russian and Ukranian weapons and personnel are facing each other. Russia’s latest movement could be seen as a way to shield off the entire Black Sea from any Western militaries taking an interest in the Ukrainian situation.
A US Air Force B-52 bomber has crashed in Guam in the Indian Ocean on Thursday 19 May, US authorities confirmed. All seven crewmembers escaped, but the aircraft was consumed by fire.
The crash happened as the aircraft took off from Guam’s 12,000 feet runway. According to a base official, the bomber only carried inert munitions when things went wrong. The aircraft’s homebase in the US was Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
Guam has been a long time deployment airfield for US bombers operating over Asia.
Germany will disband its Tornado training unit at Holloman Air Force Base in the US in 2019. Berlin has decided to move training to Schleswig-Jagel in northern Germany. Holloman AFB in New Mexico has been home to German Air Force fighter jet training since 1992, using both the F-4 Phantom and Panavia Tornado.
The announcement doesn’t come as a surprise, given the reduced number of Tornados still in German operation. A total of 85 of the fighter-bomber jets still fly, with roughly 70 based at two airbases in Germany. The remainder are at Holloman and will return to Germany by 2019, heading to Schleswig-Jagel.
During the eighties and especially during the nineties, the Tornado was the most numerous fighter aircraft flown by the German Air Force. The type was in use as fighter bomber, recce and SEAD platform and also served as an air-to-air refueller. The German Navy used the jet for anti-shipping warfare.