Remedial Strike Plan

The Air Force needs to build the 2018 bomber if only to stanch a dwindling target-hitting capacity as the service’s strike force ages out and too few replacements come along, a Northrop Grumman analyst said Wednesday. Michael Isherwood, a former USAF strategist, said the Air Force will be able “to strike 11 percent fewer aimpoints” in 2018 with 1,000-pound joint direct attack munitions than it can now. In terms of aircraft that can drop the 2,000-pound JDAM, the fighter force’s capacity will be “64 percent fewer aimpoints” than compared to now, he said. The decline in capacity, coupled with the expected drawdown of the oldest of the existing bomber fleet, is the main reason Northrop thinks the Air Force should stick to the Pentagon-blessed plan to get the first next-generation bomber on the ramp by 2018, and not wait until 2037, as some have suggested, Isherwood said. He also asserted that bombers, rather than fighters, are the logical solution to this loss of strike capacity because there are fewer foreign bases available to the US for use by the shorter-range fighters. Bombers offer long persistence over target areas and have the inherent ability to change targets on the fly. Isherwood suggested, too, that the 2018 bomber could quarterback an air campaign from behind enemy lines due to expected connectivity and “extreme” stealth. A new, extremely stealthy bomber would also impose obligatory countermeasure costs on America’s adversaries, much in the way that the B-2A challenged the relevancy of the old Soviet Union’s air defenses, Isherwood argued. Defense analysts believe Northrop is developing classified bomber technologies for the Air Force, but Isherwood’s presentation, given at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., included no discussion of programs or technologies.