Elheru Aran wrote:
Wasn't the F-22 something like 30 years in development until it started actually being issued and flown operationally by the Air Force in the past decade, though? Are they even looking at a replacement for it right now?
A project office has been/is being formed to examine the technological requirements for a 6th generation fighter. Even the earliest work on a specific aircraft should not be expected before the 2020 period, which is bad, but in general the US military is suffering from a comprehensive failure to invest sufficiently in R&D while people keep bitching that it wastes too much money on research.
Count Chocula wrote:
Why? A B-747 probably could not drop a MOAB, but it has a wider fuselage than a BUFF and a huge payload capacity. Shit, we send converted airliners (KC-10s, EC-135s, P-3s, etc.) into potential harm's way all the time.
No, we don’t. Those aircraft do not overfly enemy territory and they do not have defensive systems. A bomber is a lot more then payload; you for example need a damn way to drop the bomb out of the damn plane. The B-747 ALCM carrier concepts came in two flavors. Ones with crazy internal railroads to move around clusters of missiles to fire one by one, totally unsuited to a bombing raid though acceptable for ALCM only, and ones which involved designing a new 747 to fit massive internal bays. Neither made any real sense.
Shutting down a factory, I understand. You can always move the tooling to a warehouse somewhere and forget it there until the plane is retired or something.
Destroying the tooling of a piece of hardware which is still more or less the backbone of you force projection capabilities, in the other hand, seems utterly idiotic.
I must be missing something important, here...
You are. First of all you are talking about a really fucking massive warehouse which must be climate controlled, and a lot of tooling will need regular maintenance to be worth anything in the future. That costs real money. Secondly tooling does not give you production processes. How the tools were used, how everything was done. Prior to modern digital video it was highly impractical to record the entire production process of an aircraft, all the details, jigs and tricks that are worked out for how to build the sucker during pre-production. That BTW often turned into pre-production aircraft being near worthless or flawed and only used for training. And the first time you did it, you did it with the help of the aircraft design team that knew all about the plane and what was needed, what might be okay to change. You want to restore production even ten years down the line, you don’t have any of that. The people are dead, retired or scattered to the wind and the industry itself has changed. Many minor parts which were not designed for the aircraft may no longer be produced, and were not produced with the production line tooling. So you have to start redesigning to handle that problem, and you'd be changing all the wiring on a plane like the B-52 already because it already was changed, and you can't get new engines so that has to change and hey, we don't need eight engines anymore so why not change the pylons ect...
What it comes down to is, rarely would it make sense to restore production, so tooling was usually not kept, or recycled into other projects when possible. Also some tooling, such as some of the forges used to make custom parts for the B-52 were not organic to the B-52 line even if the part was, they did other things too and ended up being retired for other reasons. In the 1960s when the B-52 line died the US was still cranking out new aircraft projects like crazy, so even less reason existed to want to save the tools for a bomber that was already obsolete.
It makes no sense to try to or want to resurrect a decades old design, especially not a subsonic bomber which is all about efficiency. The B-52 is not efficient, it guzzles fuel, and should have been reengined, and generally is old in every respect. The thing has external fuel tanks, space for a six man crew and actually a very modest internal payload, it’s not very desirable for the future when things like radar signature matter.
As for how long the B-52 will really last, the estimates are 2030-2044 depending on how hard the aircraft are used and just how long the upper wing surfaces last. This also assumes a minimal fleet of 62 bombers is required. At either date, the US has time to wait to think about a replacement.