New Arsenal Plane Still ‘Very Nascent,’ Roper Says

A potential “clean sheet” Arsenal Plane for Air Force Global Strike Command could be done with the Digital Century Series approach, but the budget likely won’t allow for such a new start in the near future, service acquisition chief Will Roper said.

Speaking with reporters via a Zoom roundtable, Roper said he is working on a “variety of options” for Air Force Global Strike Command, and one of them is potentially a new Arsenal Plane concept, but it is in a “very nascent” form.

“My job is to have options so that the number of bombers can be achieved,” Roper said of the goal of 220 bombers USAF leaders have been voicing lately.

“The warfighters pick the mix and the quantity,” Roper explained. He’s looking at B-52 upgrades, “ramping up the B-21” stealth bomber buy, and other things “on the back burner” for AFGSC, but there have been “no significant changes made to our portfolio” of programs for long-range strike.

While the Air Force could “absolutely” design a new bomber using the model of the Digital Century Series—using digital twinning and digital threads that would simultaneously create a new aircraft design along with the factory to build it—it’s probably too swamped with other new starts right now, Roper said.

“Do we have enough budget to put something like that in? Right now, I don’t think we do,” he said. “I think we’re pretty limited with the nuclear recap, [the] Space Force standup, as well as all the modernization programs we have to get ready for a China/Russia fight.” These include hypersonics, the Advanced Battle Management System, and Joint All-Domain Command and Control. There are “a lot of cutting-edge objectives that are in the Air Force’s job jar on behalf of the Joint Force,” he said.

Bombers have been adaptable to lots of missions, and “a bomber makes a great missileer, as well. So I think the role of bombers will continue to evolve as we keep thinking through more exotic weapons and payloads that will help us in the high-end fight.”

Roper added that he’s “super-delighted that the Space Acquisition Council is just as excited” as he is about the concept of the Digital Century Series being applied to spacecraft. “So, I’m very happy to share the new religion I’ve gotten over the past year and a half.”