In order to remain stealthy, modern fighters such as the F-22 and F-35 have to carry all their weapons in internal bays, significantly reducing the payload they can carry. For example, the F-22 can fit four air-to-air missiles and two 1,000-pound bombs in its internal bay, whereas the F-35, next to two air-to-air missiles, can only carry two 2,000-pound bombs in its stealthiest configuration.
The B-1 and B-52, however, can carry up to 75,000 pounds (34,000 kilograms) of weapons and are available in large numbers. The U.S. Airforce still operates 62 B-1B Lancer and 58 B-52 Stratofortress (with 18 in reserve)
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in speech at the beginning of February, in which he discussed the Department of Defense’s 2017 budget.
And the last project I want to highlight is one that we’re calling the arsenal plane, which takes one of our oldest aircraft platform and turns it into a flying launchpad for all sorts of different conventional payloads. In practice, the arsenal plane will function as a very large airborne magazine, network to fifth generation aircraft that act as forward sensor and targeting nodes, essentially combining different systems already in our inventory to create wholly new capabilities.
The arsenal plane/fifth-generation fighter jet interaction would be similar to the artillery observer and artillery battery in ground warfare: The fifth-generation aircraft will first identify and then direct fire from the arsenal plane unto a target. Depending on the battlefield environment, the arsenal plane would carry long-range standoff missiles such as the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) to in order to stay outside the enemy’s air defense perimeter, or — when engaging a technologically less advanced adversary — move closer and drop precision-guided bombs.