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SpaceShipOne firm to build Stealth Bomber 4.0?

Even its raison d'être can't be detected

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The new black bomber might have new, fourth-gen technology, speculatively dubbed "Ultra Stealth" by Sweetman. This could conceivably offer a radar cross-section a thousandth of that presented by the Stealth-3.0 F-35, now in production test. Even a mosquito has a radar signature ten times larger than this.

Of course, strategic bombing is all rather out of fashion these days. Even tactical bombing tends to be a matter of hanging about for a long time in fairly safe bits of sky, dropping a few small, precise weapons on rare occasions. Opportunities to mount sneak raids into an alive-and-kicking air defence network are nowadays scarce. And when they do crop up, it seems that electronic trickery may count for more than low radar signature.

Do you need to take out the Iran's deep uranium centrifuge bunkers at Natanz, perhaps? Well, if a B-2 with a couple of Massive Ordnance Penetrators won't do, you could just put a suitable conventional warhead on an intercontinental missile. The need for a new bomber isn't immediately apparent, especially one that isn't even hypersonic.

(And no, launching a rocket won't make people think you've started a nuclear war, any more than when your nuclear-capable planes take off.)

However, the US Air Force apparently counter such arguments by saying that their new stealth planes - which in any case don't exist, so why are you even criticising them* - would also be great for spying missions. Air force men the world over tend to love bombers and strategic bombing - without these things, they might have to go and be part of the army.

The loose plan might be to keep things black until maybe 2010, then hold a competition for the production bomber fleet which Northrop/Scaled would be bound to win, having already built a secret demonstrator. This might avoid some of the messy hair-pulling by rival contractors which has made the USAF's life such a misery in recent aircraft buys.

Some versions of the plane might be manned, but for ultimate stealthiness and endurance an unmanned version would be more or less bound to appear. Read all of Bill Sweetman's crafty analysis here and here. ®

*This could be a primary reason for keeping the project secret.

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