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B-21s? Or, thinking big for RAAF vs China (with unreliable US to boot)


Army.ca Fixture
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US open to deal on new strike aircraft

US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross says his country would look favourably on a request by Australia to buy new strike aircraft, as Defence Minister Linda Reynolds left open the possibility of the ADF acquiring long-range attack capabilities.

Senator Reynolds said the case for improved strike capabilities would be considered in a ­review by Defence’s force structure team, amid calls for a rethink of the ADF’s ability to counter rising Chinese threats in the Indo-Pacific region.

Retired Air Marshal Leo ­Davies and his predecessor, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, warned in The Australian on Tuesday that air and maritime strike capabilities must be considered to counter Chinese threats amid a possible retreat by the US from the region. They said strategic bombers and drones, and land-based ballistic missiles, should be considered.

Australian Strategic Policy ­Institute senior analyst Malcolm Davis said Australia should consider asking the US to join its B-21 Raider Long Range Strike Bomber program, and look at investing in a strike version of Boeing’s in-development Loyal Wingman drone. The development of the fifth-generation B-21 is currently a US-only program, but Australia could ask to become involved, in a move that would lower the unit cost of the aircraft for the US.

Mr Ross told The Australian that the US wanted to sell Australia more strike aircraft, although he did not specifically refer to the B-21. “We have no intention of ­vacating our military or our ­geopolitical position but we would be delighted to sell Australia more aircraft if that’s what suits your Department of ­Defence,” he said via teleconference from the East Asia Summit in Thailand.

Australia is acquiring 72 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters from US company Lockheed Martin, but the JSF does not have the range to undertake long-range strike missions without in-flight refuelling, which eliminates its stealth ­advantages.

Opposition defence spokesman Richard Marles said the government would “ignore air marshals Davies and Brown at its peril”. “Not only do we need the right strike force, it is essential that our defence forces are fully resourced to properly support that strike capability,” Mr Marles said. “We must have the most capable and strategic defence force possible.”

Senator Reynolds said the government was investing $200bn in naval, air and land capabilities, but was open to ­“adjustments”. “In our challenging and ­dynamic strategic environment, we need a defence strategy that is fit for purpose,” she said. “Defence has a force structure team that is analysing our current force structure with regard to emerging threats and this work will inform future consideration of any ­adjustments.”

The RAAF has been left without a long-range strike capability since the retirement of the F-111 fighter-bomber, while the navy’s Attack-class Future Submarines will not enter service until 2035 at the earliest and would arrive at the rate of one every two years.

Dr Davis said this would leave a significant “capability gap” that could be filled by a combination of the B-21, a long-range combat drone and ballistic missiles.


Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Malcolm Davis says Australia should consider asking the US to join its B-21 Raider Long Range Strike Bomber program. Picture: Northrop Grumman.


- mod edit to fix thread title spelling -
The B-21 is not the F-111, and the Super Hornet was bought by the RAAF to replace the F-111. 

I would be very surprised if the RAAF decided to buy the B-21.
It sounds more just like speculating at this point, using the B-21 as an example platform.

The ADF recognizes the need to be able to reach out from a distance & strike targets in anger, and is exploring the widespread introduction of UCAV's, conventional ICBM's, and warships capable of long distance land strike.  Any conflict in the Pacific truly is right there in their own backyard, and they need to be able to influence events in a useful way.

I agree with Dimsum.  The B-21 probably isn't in the cards - besides, it will be more cost prohibitive than even the F-22 was back in the day.  And while the F-22 was & is state of the art, a lot of the technology in it when it first rolled out wasn't.  (Not a knock against the F-22, it's just that electronics advance so quickly these days.) 

The B-21 on the other hand, from whatever open source info we have, seems like it'll be truly cutting edge in every way right from the start, and is being developed in a much smarter way than the F-22 or F-35.  (Treating it more like a SAP than advertising every single bloody moment of it's development to the MSM...)

Good to see them thinking this way though, considering any conflict in the Pacific is close to home.  Tiger gunship replacements, decent C-17 fleet (Larger fleet than ours) - a solid investment plan with specific capabilities to be acquired by specific timelines, approved by both major government parties.  Definitely a better defense culture shared in their government than ours.
I think they have a better appreciation of the concept of "strategic"

Airlift = Strategic
Long Range Strike = Strategic
ICBM = Strategic

Canada does not have threats as 'close' as Australia does, and so I suspect that has a diminishing effect on the perceived threats that our nation faces.

We touch on strategic assets - we have a few strategic airlift capable aircraft, we have a few submarines. 

All of our other equipment is effectively tactical assets.  A Frigate, a Battalion of Infantry, a Squadron of Tanks, a Squadron of fighter planes.

We are scraping by to maintain our tactical assets, and are barely maintaining any truly strategic capabilities.

It would literally take billions of dollars of not just procurement, but also infrastructure to expand our nation's strategic capabilities, and from the perspective of most political parties, our military is already too big a chunk of the budget. 

More on B-21 for Oz:

Is the B-21 bomber a viable option for Australia?
That suggests it will have an unrefuelled combat radius of around 5,000 kilometres. As shown in the figure below, that would allow it to operate from deep within Australia (I’ve used Alice Springs to illustrate the point) and still cover the entire archipelago to our northwest, the South China Sea, our South Pacific neighbours, and the gap between Guam and Papua New Guinea.

Figure 1: 5,000-kilometre combat radius from Alice Springs


Because of its inherent range, the B-21 wouldn’t require air-to-air refuellers. Being based well inland, it wouldn’t be exposed to the same extent to the threats that our northern bases or offshore airbases are faced with. A strike platform like the B-21 would still require sophisticated enablers to find and precisely target an adversary in that huge combat radius. Those come at a substantial cost.

The B-21 could deliver a broad range of effects. A strike package of four aircraft could likely carry around 40–50 long-range maritime strike weapons, which would inflict unacceptable losses on any maritime or amphibious task force. If the target was the adversary’s forward operating bases, a first wave of aircraft could use long-range stand-off weapons to destroy their air defences (including aircraft on the ground), with each bomber in a follow-up wave delivering around 80 precision-guided  JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) bombs, or around 200 small-diameter bombs.

Moreover, the bombers could return the next day, unlike a submarine which could need a month to return to the fight after going home to reload once it had launched its handful of strike missiles. No other system could deliver a comparable weight of fire. It would certainly get the attention and shape the military planning of any power that wanted to operate in that huge circle.

The B-21 could also be used tactically to deliver close air support to Australian and allied troops on the ground, as US bombers have done in the Middle East. A single B-21 could carry about as much ordnance as a squadron of F-35s but with greater range and persistence over the target and fewer enablers.

...Let’s assume the sweet spot is around 12 to 20 aircraft. Since total program costs are usually around 1.5 to 2 times the cost of the aircraft themselves, we’d be looking at around $20–40 billion. That’s a lot of money, but less than the cost of the future submarine program.

The real challenge is always affording the annual cash flow without gutting the defence budget. Unlike the future submarine program, which is drawn out over nearly 40 years, the bulk of the spending to acquire the B-21 would likely be compressed into five or six years, requiring around $5–6 billion per year. That’s over half of Defence’s capital equipment budget. And it’s more than the entire local shipbuilding program when it is up and running (which has been declared untouchable).

It’s hard to see Defence being able to afford that without a massive cash injection from the government. But if the government is serious about addressing our worsening strategic environment, the B-21 would be an investment that made both friends and potential adversaries sit up and take notice.

I've actually made this argument for Canada in the past on various Army.ca threads, although usually advocating for the F-15E Strike Eagle or at least once for the B-1B.

The arguments are very similar, except that we need long range aricraft to patrol our own airspace and seas. Flying across Canada may seem routine for us, but for most nations, those are strategic distances. Now extend that to flying to and patrolling the Canadian Arctic, or the 200 mile boundaries of our economic zones on each of the three coasts.

A B-21 can act as a long range patrol platform, carry a great load of sensors and even act as an arsenal plane (carrying racks of anti air or anti ship missiles). The fact it is a subsonic platform isn't even an issue, patrols are flown at subsonic speeds and supersonic dashes can be substituted with supersonic (or in the future) hypersonic missiles, lasers or small railgun weapons.

If both Canada and Australia were to make this sort of calculation and purchase, the unit costs of B-21's in general would come down greatly, and the interoperability factor would also be a big bonus. The RAF might also consider coming aboard, since their needs include patrolling the G-I-UK gap and a lot of other airspace into the Atlantic as well.

Of course this is an idea based on the physical geography of Canada, not politics or the optics of the "Blue Beret Myth", so take it as a hypothetical.
On the subject of Arsenal Planes

Arsenal Planes: Imagine a C-17 Cargo Plane Firing Hundreds of Missiles
The National Interest
David Axe
,The National Interest•November 6, 2019

The U.S. Air Force is refining its concept for an “arsenal plane” that could haul huge numbers of munitions into combat. Now cargo planes could be in the mix alongside bombers.

The flying branch in November 2019 “is planning experiments and briefing senior leaders on progress toward its arsenal-plane idea,” Air Force Magazine reporter Rachel Cohen wrote.

The Air Force in 2016 first discussed the concept. The “multi-engine” arsenal plane would carry large numbers of “network-enabled, semi-autonomous weapons” and fire them at targets identified by other, more survivable planes such as bombers and stealth fighters, the Air Force explained in a 2016 concept video.

The Pentagon’s secretive Strategic Capabilities Office originated the arsenal-plane concept. The idea “takes one of our oldest aircraft platform and turns it into a flying launchpad for all sorts of different conventional payloads,” Ash Carter, then the defense secretary, said in 2016. “In practice, the arsenal plane will function as a very large airborne magazine, [and] network to fifth-generation aircraft that act as forward sensor and targeting nodes.”

In a parallel effort, the Pentagon also is developing new, smaller missiles that could increase, severalfold, the weapons loadout of a fighter or arsenal plane.

Many observers assumed the Air Force intended to modify some of its 1960s-vintage B-52 bombers to function as the flying arsenals. The eight-engine B-52 matches the service’s description of an “old,” “multi-engine” aircraft.

The bomber lacks stealth qualities. Even before the advent of the arsenal-plane concept, the Air Force planned for the B-52, during high-end warfare, to perform a supporting role firing long-range munitions. The arsenal-plane idea merely extends the B-52’s existing operating concept and could require minimal modifications to the bomber’s sensors, communications, hardpoints and bomb bay.

But it’s possible the Air Force wants to convert an airlifter for the role, Cohen reported. Air Force Global Strike Command boss Gen. Timothy Ray “indicated mobility platforms could be in the mix,” Cohen wrote.

“You have to go look at those options, if you believe you’ll have access to airlift assets to go do that in a time of crisis,” Ray said. “I’m not mentally there, I don’t see how that comes together.”

“At the end of the day, there’s a little bit of learning going on,” Ray added. “It’s an easy thing to draw, a tougher thing to do.”

But a cargo plane such as a C-17 could require extensive modification before it could launch weapons. And as vulnerable as a lumbering B-52 is, a C-17 with its relative dearth of electronic countermeasures is even more vulnerable.

“C-17s will likely be in very high demand during the opening stages of a major conflict accomplishing their primary missions,” Mark Gunzinger, an analyst with the Virginia-based Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, told Cohen. “It wouldn’t make sense to allocate them for strikes instead of using them to deploy forces into a theatre of operations.

Uncertainty aside, there’s a cold logic in the Air Force’s drive to acquire an arsenal plane. To preserve their clean, radar-dodging lines, the service’s F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters typically carry their weapons in small internal bays.

The F-22’s standard loadout is four air-to-air missiles and two 1,000-pound bombs. The F-35 can haul just two air-to-air missiles and two 2,000-pound bombs internally. By contrast, many Russian and Chinese fighters, while not stealthy, routinely carry 10 or more missiles and bombs under their fuselages and wings.

American fighter squadrons could fly into combat with far fewer weapons than their opponents could carry. An arsenal plane, lobbing potentially hundreds of missiles from well behind the aerial front line, could help to close the weapons-gap.

“This is a little unusual and something (almost) entirely new,” Brian Laslie, author of The Air Force Way of War, told The Daily Beast shortly after the Air Force first announced the arsenal-plane concept. “But with too few fighters carrying too few weapons—and rapidly-arming foes—the Pentagon seems willing to risk something unusual and new: slow, decidedly non-stealthy heavy bombers backing up speedy stealthy fighters a fraction their size.”

Only they might not be bombers, after all.




The US doesn't export our bombers. Perhaps the Russians might have a few to sell ?
tomahawk6 said:
The US doesn't export our bombers. Perhaps the Russians might have a few to sell ?

The US would crap their pants if Australia bought Russian anythings. 
We know how they reacted to us buying Mig-21's many years ago...

The problems for AUS are interesting - they need long range because in the South Pacific, everything is far away (harkens back to WW2 where power projection required Aircraft Carriers or islands)

The options that they have are:
-Get a long Range Aircraft
-Get an Aircraft Carrier
-Get a land base closer to the foe

Suppose they got basing rights at Seleyar Island in Indonesia?  It's 1300km closer to the 'danger zone' so to speak, and while the island only has a single runway airstrip, it's within ferry range, and certainly would expand the operational cover for their Air force.

That said - how likely would Indonesia be to allow such a thing to happen?

It might be easier to get some B-21's after all!

With the B21 comes a new USAF long range fighter to protect it.