Long-Range Bomber Facts :
Foreign Affairs Analyst
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
September 20, 1993
LONG-RANGE BOMBER FACTS :
The U.S . Air Force has spent over $100 billion to develop, produce, and
modernize the planes currently comprising its long-range bomber fleet -- the B52, the B-1B, and the B-2 . Among the costliest of weapon systems, these aircraft
have filled the need for a recallable and flexible way of quickly delivering heavy
destruction to a far-away target .
Since the end of the Cold War, the purpose of these bombers has changed
from primarily a nuclear war-fighting mission to primarily conventional
missions . Although regional, non-nuclear conflicts are presumably much more
likely to occur than is nuclear war, nevertheless the Air Force has greatly
reduced the size of its planned long-range bomber fleet, partly in response to a
call for cost-cutting across the board .
Congress, which had long been in the habit of providing almost all of the
funding requested for these bombers, has in recent years cast a more skeptical
eye on bomber budget requests . By setting up conditions to be met before
certain funds can be released, the Congress has been attempting to ensure that
the bombers can do what they need to and that ever-escalating costs are not
inversely related to the quality of the product .
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ROLE OF LONG-RANGE BOMBERS IN U .S . MILITARY 1
U.S. BOMBER PROGRAMS
Program Status and Details
B-2 Cost Data
B-1B Cost Data
LONG-RANGE BOMBERS AND CONGRESS
A CHRONOLOGY OF KEY EVENTS AND CONGRESSIONAL
VOTES ON THE B-52, B-l, AND B-2 BOMBER PROGRAMS . . 7
LONG-RANGE BOMBER FACTS :
ROLE OF LONG-RANGE BOMBERS IN U.S. MILITARY
Until June 1, 1992, when an Air Force reorganization came into effect, most
of the Nation's long-range bombers -- the B-52, the B-1B, and the B-2 -- were
under the control of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) . (In late 1987, two
squadrons of B-52s were removed from the nuclear role to serve a purely
conventional mission.) They had as their primary mission the deterrence of a
nuclear war . As the air-breathing leg of the U .S. strategic triad, the manned
bombers were designed as second-strike, retaliatory forces that would deliver
nuclear warheads into Soviet territory .
The Cold War-era plan for the U .S. long-range bomber fleet envisioned over
400 long-range bombers to stay ahead of what were perceived as constant
improvements in Soviet air defenses . The B-1 was the first new bomber planned
by the Air Force, but was cancelled by President Carter in 1977 . When the B-2
program was begun in 1978, it reportedly called for production of 165 B-2s at
a total cost of $36 billion (in FY1980 dollars) . The B-2s would serve as
penetrating bombers that would have a great assurance of succeeding in their
mission because they would be very difficult to detect by enemy air defenses .
The B-52s would stay outside enemy boundaries and deliver standoff nuclear
weapons (air-launched cruise missiles) .
When President Reagan resurrected the B-1 program as part of his strategic
modernization effort, the plan for new long-range bombers was expanded by 100
aircraft . The B-1 at that time was described as an interim penetrating strategic
bomber, bridging the gap between the B-52 and the B-2, and as a conventional
weapons platform of superior abilities that could perform bombing, mine laying,
maritime support, and show of force functions . Because there was considerable
controversy surrounding the B-1, Congress required, and the President
delivered, a formal certification that the entire program would not cost more
than $20.5 billion (in FY1981 dollars) . The numerous problems subsequently
encountered by the B-1B have been attributed by some, at least partly, to the
congressionally-imposed cost cap .
No such cap was imposed on the B-2, which has grown greatly in cost even
as its planned production has shrunk . In early 1986, the Air Force planned to
produce 132 B-2s for a total cost of $58 .2 billion ($440 million per plane) . By
February 1991, the production plan was cut to 75 at a total cost of $64 .8 billion
($863 million per plane) ; and in 1993, the planned buy of 20 B-2s is anticipated
to cost a total of $44 .4 billion ($2 .2 billion per plane) .
The main military developments changing the perceived need for many
long-range bombers were the strategic arms reduction treaties between the
United States and the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and the breakup
of the Soviet Union . At the same time, domestic economic developments within
the United States called for a reordering of priorities and a reduction in military
spending . Since the long-range bombers have traditionally been among the most
expensive systems, they were ripe targets for cost-reducers . Not only were the
plans for B-2s reduced, but more B-52s were slated to be retired, and there has
been talk of relegating the B-lB to retired status .
The new Air Combat Command (ACC), a consolidation of SAC and Tactical
Air Command, joins the bomber force to the other power projection assets of the
Air Force -- fighters, electronic warfare and reconnaissance aircraft, and
command and control platforms like AWACS and JSTARS . According to the Air
Force, this restructuring reflects an integrated way of thinking about airpower .
The role of the long-range bombers within the scheme is to combine mass (large
payloads), reach (long range), and immediacy (quick response) with the ability
to conduct precision strikes with non-nuclear weapons to serve in future
regional operations . With the closing of more U .S . bases overseas, it is likely
that dependence on long-range bombers will increase . Although their
conventional missions, with advanced conventional munitions, are now being
emphasized and planned for, many bombers will also retain their nuclear warfighting functions .
Features and Performance Characteristics
Of U .S . Long-Range Bombers:
B-52, B-1B, and B-2
6 (all in test
program) ; first of
20 operational B2s del . Dec .'93
Payload (lb .)
75,000 internal ;
at high altitude,
595 mph (Jane's
altitude ; high
subsonic at low
55,000 ft .
low level penetration, 200 ft . ;
cruise, 42,000 ft .
50,000 ft .
Max . unrefueled
on altitude profile
7,500 mi . G
10,000 mi . H
7,455 mi . (Jane's
6,000 mi. (AF)
7,255 mi . (AF
U.S. BOMBER PROGRAMS
The B-2 Advanced Technology Bomber or "stealth" bomber was originally
designed to penetrate Soviet territory to attack targets at close range during a
nuclear war . The B-2 incorporates "stealth" technology (involving radar
deception and radar-absorbing materials) intended to make it very difficult for
enemy air defenses to detect . The prime contractor for the program is
Northrop Aircraft Group and production facilities are in Palmdale, California .
In 1991, the Air Force announced that testing had revealed that the B-2 was not
as stealthy as had been anticipated ; subsequent announcements have indicated
that the problems have been identified and are being solved . Since the reduction
of the Soviet nuclear military threat and the demonstrated success of stealth
technology during the Persian Gulf War, the Air Force has emphasized the
ability of the B-2 to execute conventional missions . FY 1993 funding for the B-2
was to complete the buy of 20 aircraft ; FY94 funding is to begin to provide for
adjustments necessary to maximize the B-2's conventional capability .
Program Status and Details
The B-2 has been in full-scale development since 1981 . Northrop Aircraft
Group (located in California) is the prime contractor, with Boeing Aerospace and
LTV (Vought) as key members of the development team . A full-scale
engineering mock-up of the B-2 was completed in early 1986, a prototype was
rolled out on November 22, 1988, and the first flight of a B-2 prototype occurred
July 17, 1989 .
Six flight-test B-2 bombers have been funded through the research and
development (R&D) appropriations of the B-2 program : All six have been
delivered and joined the flight test program . Five of these 6 R&D planes will
eventually join operational wings . Two additional full-scale development
(nonflying) air frames have been delivered for ground tests . The seventh
aircraft is considered the first production aircraft, but will be devoted to
electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) testing after final assembly . The eighth
aircraft will be completed before EMC tests on aircraft #7 are concluded, and
is therefore the first operational bomber the Air Force will receive, in December
B-2 Cost Data
Program Acquisition Cost, Air Fo ce estimate : $44 .4 billion for 20 B-2s
Program Unit Cost, Air Force estimate : $2 .2 billion
Table 1 . B-2 Appropriations, By Year
3,809 .7 (5)
2,349 .3 (3)
2,800 .0 (1)
For FY1994, the Air Force requested $ 890 million for B-2 procurement and
$790 million for RDT&E .
The B-1B strategic bomber was intended as a replacement for the aging
fleet of B-52s that had long been the mainstay of the Strategic Air Command,
as well as a multipurpose bomber that could be used for a variety of nonstrategic missions . Procurement funding was completed in FY1986, and delivery
of the 100-aircraft fleet of B-1Bs was completed by April 1988 (the fleet now
numbers 96, after 4 crashes) . The Initial Operational Capability (IOC) date was
October 1986 . The B-1B program has cost $27 .7 billion during FY1981-1993 .
The unit cost of a B-lB (RDT&E + procurement/96) is around $288 million (in
then-year dollars) . The B-1B is currently based at the following facilities :
Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota ; Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota; McConnell
AFB, Kansas ; and Dyess AFB, Texas . Since reorganization of the Air Force and
the new emphasis on conventional missions for all the heavy bombers, current
and future B-lB funding concentrates on enhancements and modifications to
enable the B-lB to carry a variety of conventional munitions . Congress
explicitly endorsed the exploration of conventional options for the B-1B in the
legislation authorizing funds for FY 1992 . Problems with the B-113's defensive
avionics system as well as other defects continue to be of concern, and Congress
required progress reports on solving these problems in the FY1992 legislation .
For FY1993, Congress appropriated about $50 million less than the
Administration had requested for the B-lB program .
B-lB Cost Data
Cost goal certified by President: $20 .5 billion (FY1981 dollars)
Program acquisition cost (current AF estimate) : $20 .88 billion in FY1981
dollars ; $30 billion in FY1994 dollars
Unit cost : $208.8 million in FY1981 dollars ; $300 million in FY1994 dollars
Appropriations for B-lA program, FY1965-FY1981 : $4 .2 billion
(The B-1A program, as originally conceived, called for production of some
244 Advanced Manned Strategic Aircraft to replace the B-52s . A total of three
prototypes had been produced when President Carter cancelled the program in
1977, having decided that the job of bombing the Soviet Union in the event of
nuclear war could be accomplished by standoff aircraft carrying air-launched
cruise missiles, until development of a nuclear penetrating bomber with stealthy
features -- the B-2 . Although formally cancelled, the B-1 program was kept
functionally alive by continued funding of work on a Long-Range Combat
Aircraft, which evolved into the B-lB .)
Table 2 . B-lB Appropriations, By Year
Procurement (Quant .)
3,868 .1 (7)
7,071 .0 (34)
For FY1994, the Administration requested $162 .5 million for procurement
and $93.5 million for RDT&E .
During the decades of the Cold War, most B-52s were dedicated primarily
to the deterrence of nuclear war, although B-52 Gs were used in the nonnuclear conflicts in Vietnam and in the Persian Gulf. The B-52 has absorbed
substantial amounts of funding as it has been modernized over the years ; over
$41 billion has been spent for development, procurement, modernization, and
service life extension of the B-52, which entered service in the mid-1950s . A
total of 744 B-52 aircraft with an average unit cost of $6 .1 million were
produced in eight configurations between 1954 and 1962 ; most are no longer in
the active inventory. Ninety-seven B-52 Gs and 96 B-52Hs were equipped with
air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM-Bs) . Most of the B-52s, however, will be
removed from the inventory over the next few years : DOD plans as of the
beginning of 1992 called for around 100 B-52s to remain in the strategic bomber
force as of FY1993 and for fewer than 40 B-52Gs to be relegated to a
conventional role . The Bomber Road Map (summer 1992) stated that all B-52Gs
were to be retired, and their conventional role absorbed by B-52Hs, which have
more powerful engines, cost less to operate, and have a greater range . For
FY93, Congress appropriated about $35 million more than had been requested
for the B-52 .
Table 3. B-52 Bomber Appropriations, by Year
For FY1994, the Administration requested $47 .4 million for B-52
LONG-RANGE BOMBERS AND CONGRESS
Although Congress has consistently granted the vast bulk of requested
funding for the long-range bomber programs, both House and Senate Armed
Services have in recent years set numerous requirements for the Air Force to
meet regarding the B-1 and B-2 programs . (The B-52 program has not been the
subject of controversy, having performed well in conflicts from Vietnam to the
Persian Gulf. Modernization and upgrading of the B-52's structure and
capabilities have continued throughout the B-1/B-2 period) .
Most of the congressionally-imposed requirements have arisen from
concerns about the adequacy of the bombers' respective testing programs, but
recently the committees have questioned the underlying reasons for the bomber
programs' very existence . During the Cold War period, the overriding and
unquestioned need for an effective nuclear deterrent drove the B-1 and B-2
programs forward with not much more than cosmetic changes imposed by
Congress . Since the end of the Cold War, however, Congress has demanded
from the Administration a convincing rationale for continuing to spend large
sums for these expensive aircraft .
The information that follows includes all House and Senate floor votes on
the bombers through the FY93 defense budget process .
A CHRONOLOGY OF KEY EVENTS AND CONGRESSIONAL VOTES
ON THE B-52, B-1, AND B-2 BOMBER PROGRAMS
The Senate rejected (45-53) a Leahy amendment to 5 .3114, FY 93
Defense Authorizations, that would have eliminated $2 .7 billion
for the B-2, terminating the program at 15 aircraft .
The House rejected (173-248) a Penny amendment to H .R. 5504,
FY 93 Defense Appropriations, to reduce the Air Force
procurement account by $2 .7 billion, the amount earmarked to
purchase four more B-2 bombers .
The House rejected (162-212) an Andrews of Maine amendment
to H.R . 5006, FY 1993 Defense Authorizations, that sought to
terminate the production of B-2 bombers after the completion of
the 15 previously funded, therefore reducing the FY1993
authorization by $2 .7 billion.
The Senate adopted (by voice vote) a Levin amendment to H .R.
2521, FY1992 Defense Appropriations, to further limit the use of
funds for B-2 procurement until the Secretary of Defense assures
Congress that the original radar cross section performance
objectives of the B-2 have been successfully demonstrated from
flight testing . The Senate rejected Division I of a Sasser
amendment, to reduce funding for the B-2 (it was tabled by a 5148 vote) .
The Air Force announced that the B-2 had not performed as well
as expected in a July 26 test of its radar evading capability .
08/01/91 --- The Senate rejected (42-57) a Leahy amendment to S . 1507,
FY1992 Defense Authorizations, to eliminate the bill's provision
allowing for production of 4 B-2 bombers, stopping production at
the 15 planes already funded . The amendment would have
allowed for continued RDT&E .
After a Major Aircraft Review, Secretary of Defense Cheney
announced a revised procurement plan for the B-2 : 75 aircraft at
a total cost of $61 .1 billion .
The Senate rejected (29-68) a Cranston/Sasser/Wirth amendment
to H .R. 3072 to delete all production funding for the B-2 .
The Senate rejected (29-71) a Leahy amendment to H .R. 3072 to
cut off funding for production of additional B-2s .
The Senate adopted (93-7) a Cohen amendment to S . 1352
expressing the sense of the Senate that current funding of lowrate B-2 production does not constitute a commitment to support
future production of B-2s.
The Senate adopted (by voice vote) a Levin amendment to S . 1352
to ensure substantially stronger contractor guarantees for the
The House rejected (176-244) a Skelton amendment to H .R. 2461,
FY1990-1991 Defense Authorization bill, to authorize $3 .9 billion
for B-2 production as long as DOD certifies meeting the original
performance objectives and establishment of cost reduction
initiatives. The House also rejected (144-279) a Kasich/Dellums
amendment to terminate production of the B-2 at 13 aircraft .
The House then agreed to (257-160) an Aspin/Synar amendment
to reduce by $470 million B-2 procurement funding .
The Senate adopted (by voice vote) a Kennedy amendment to S .
1352, FY1990-1991 Defense Authorization bill, to require a DOD
report on the implications of a reduction in the planned
procurement of 132 B-2 bombers . The Senate also adopted (98-1)
a Nunn/Warner amendment that would authorize $4 .4 billion of
the $4.7 billion requested for the B-2, with restrictions aimed at
assuring that the aircraft will perform as intended .
07/17/89 --- The B-2 made its first flight, from Palmdale, CA, flying for 2
hours before landing at Edwards Air Force Base .
The first open hearing on the B-2 was held by the House Armed
Services Committee .
The Air Force released B-2 annual budget projections and a new
total cost: $70 .2 billion in then-year dollars .
The Air Force announced its latest cost estimate for the B-2 :
$42.5 billion in FY1981 dollars, or $68 .1 billion in then-year
House rejected (191-206) Boxer amendment to H .R . 1748 to delete
from the bill $376 million for B-1B RDT&E .
Senate agreed (voice vote) to Byrd amendment to FY1987 DOD
authorization bill specifying that none of the funds for ATB be
used for any other purpose, and that no funds be used for any
purpose related to deployment of more than 100 B-lBs .
The Defense Department released a "fact sheet" on the B-2, giving
figures of $36 .6 billion and $277 million (in FY1981 dollars) for
the total and unit prices, respectively .
A report from the Defense Department on the total cost of the
B-2 was delivered to Congress . The cost figure was classified . It
was later revealed that the cost figure was $58 .2 billion in thenyear dollars, or $440 million per plane .
07/30/85 --- The conference report of the FY1986 defense authorization bill
directed the Secretary of Defense to provide Congress with an
estimate of the total program cost of the B-2 by Feb . 1, 1986 .
The House rejected (163-254) a Dellums amendment to H .R. 5167
to delete all funds for B-1B procurement .
The House rejected (175-247) an Addabbo amendment to H .R.
4185 to delete $438 .7 million to begin multi-year procurement of
The Senate tabled (56-41) a Nunn amendment to S . 675 to slow
down B-1B production rate and prohibit multi-year procurement .
The Senate tabled (68-30) a Kennedy-Bumpers-Hollings
amendment to S . 675 to delete $7 billion for B-1B production and
The House rejected (164-255) a Dellums amendment to H .R. 2969
to delete funding for B-1B .
The House rejected (171-252) a McCloskey amendment to H .R.
2969 to prohibit multi-year procurement of the B-1 bomber .
The Senate adopted (52-38) a Stevens amendment to H .R. 3069
providing $185 million for B-1B multi-year procurement.
The House rejected (142-257) a Dellums amendment to H .R . 6030
to delete procurement authorization for B-1B .
Pursuant to P .L . 97-114, the President transmitted to Congress
his certification of B-1B cost estimates (H .Doc . 97-127) stating
that acquisition of 100 B-1B aircraft is feasible within the $20 .5
billion budget estimate by 1986 .
12/03/81 --- The Senate rejected (28-66) a Hollings amendment to H .R. 4995
to delete funding for the B-1B .
The House rejected (142-263) an amendment to H .R. 4995 to
delete $1 .8 billion in funding for the B-1B .
President Reagan announced his strategic modernization plan,
including pursuit of a "2-bomber" option -- B-1Bs and B-2s .
CRS- 1 0
Secretary of Defense Brown announced the existence of a
"Stealth" technology program that "enables the United States to
build manned and unmanned aircraft that cannot be successfully
intercepted with existing air defense systems ."