While a great amount of speculation remains about the Air Force’s next bomber, Barry Watts, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, thinks the design that will emerge will be a far-reaching strike platform with less payload capacity than the B-2A. In remarks to reporters Feb. 3 in Washington, D.C., on the findings of his new bomber study, in which he notes 2020 as a more likely fielding date than the current 2018 goal, Watts said advances in precision weapons have made it possible for long-range bombers to carry a leaner payload. “Most of the people I’ve talked to … in and around the aircraft design business kind of think a 15,000-pound to 20,000-pound payload probably would suffice for this bomber,” he said. (The B-2, by comparison, can carry up to 40,000 pounds of ordnance.) As a result, the new bomber would be comparatively smaller and have two engines instead of four, like on the B-2, thereby increasing its low-observability characteristics and incorporating fuel efficiencies in the design for a wider operating radius, he said. The amount of nuclear hardening built into the design would depend on what the Air Force wants the bomber to withstand, he said.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.