First and foremost, the new B-3 bomber — will be a stealthy bomb truck built to carry tons of munitions into contested airspace. (What is “contested airspace”? An area guarded by powerful radars and surface-to-air missiles that could easily shoot down today’s non-stealthy B-1 and B-52 bombers. Where does this type of airspace exist? China, Russia and likely Iran.) But that’s just the beginning.
It will be a “long-range sensor shooter”.
Over the past decade-plus of flying counterinsurgency missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force has learned how to give an ordinary bomber some intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capabilities as well.
Targeting pods bearing high-power cameras have been installed on B-1 and B-52 bombers, breathing new life into those seasoned airframes. Today, the B-1 is used regularly to strike ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Since it can carry lots of bombs and fly for a long time, it can hang out above the battlefield and strike targets as they pop up.
The stealthy new bomber is meant to be able to do the same thing — in well-defended airspace. Like the B-2 bomber and the F-22 and F-35 fighters, the new aircraft will have its antennas embedded in its skin.
Some of those antennas are expected to be for powerful radars, allowing the aircrew to get detailed pictures of the ground and sky around them. Other antennae will sweep the electromagnetic spectrum for other clues about the enemy’s forces. (They may also allow the crew to to jam enemy equipment.) Taken as a whole, the sensor suite embedded in the aircraft’s skin will allow the aircraft to vacuum up information about the battlespace.
Moreover, the major advances in computer processing power in the decades since the Air Force’s existing bombers were designed will allow the new aircraft to crunch sensor data by itself instead of having to send to down to intelligence centers on the ground.
This airborne processing and sharing of data between planes — Deptula calls it the “combat cloud” — will give military commanders and war planners a leg up on the enemy.
The speed of information, advances in stealth, precision, new sensors and technologies permit us to move beyond designing aircraft with segregated missions like technology forced us to do in the past,
Today’s battle-management aircraft, such as the E-3 AWACS or E-8 JSTARS, have massive radars and rigid protruding antennas that light up enemy radar screens like a Christmas tree. But the same stealthiness that allows the new bomber to slip undetected into contested airspace will allow it to act as a quarterback for other forces once it gets there.
Gathering and crunching data as it goes, the B3 bomber will use its high-bandwidth communications to send information and even directions to satellites, other aircraft, and even ground forces. It could steer other aircraft around hidden SAM batteries, for example, or pass target instructions as lat/long data or even video.
Current AWACS, Airborne Warning and Control system
SOURCES – Defense One