A strategic bomber is a medium- to long-range penetration bomber aircraft designed to drop large amounts of air-to-ground weaponry onto a distant target for the purposes of debilitating the enemy’s capacity to wage war. Unlike tactical bombers, penetrators, fighter-bombers, and attack aircraft, which are used in air interdiction operations to attack enemy combatants and military equipment, strategic bombers are designed to fly into enemy territory to destroy strategic targets (e.g., infrastructure, logistics, military installations, factories, etc.). In addition to strategic bombing, strategic bombers can be used for tactical missions. There are currently only three countries that operate strategic bombers: the United States, Russia and China. But what are the reasons behind other countries airforces not operating strategic bombers. In this article we will have a good discussion on this very interesting topic.
The reason behind most countries airforces not operating strategic bombers is very simple. It is very difficult to develop and produce these warmachines on their own, and also related products cannot be purchased in the international market so easily. Also, most countries do not have the need to equip strategic bombers. Next, we will explain why there are so few countries equipped with strategic bombers from the perspective of the technical difficulty of strategic bombers and equipments it needs to remain air worthy and operationalable.
The technical difficulty of designing and developing strategic bombers is too high, and most countries are unable to develop them by using their own resources
At present, there are no more than 5 countries in the world that can independently produce fighter aircrafts. The independent production i am talking about here includes a complete set of fighter subsystems from the fuselage to the weapons, from the engine to the avionics! Although India and Japan can also produce fighter jets, but key components such as engines and other subsystems still needs to be purchased from other countries. Ukraine does have some potential to develop a fighter jet. But after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s national strength has declined to the point where it has no financial support even if this country relies on the technological legacy of the Soviet Union and wants to develop fighter jets!
Compared with the technical difficulty of fighter jets, the technical difficulty of strategic bombers has risen exponentially. At present, in a strict sense, only the United States and Russia are equipped with strategic bombers, china’s H-6 series bombers can only be regarded as medium-range bombers, and it does not have the full capabilities of strategic bombers. The strategic bombers of the United States and Russia were all developed during the Cold War. Until today, neither of them has served another new strategic bomber. You know, the Cold War has passed for 30 years. This shows that strategic bombers are very difficult to develop and produce!
Technical difficulty is naturally the number one problem while designing a Strategic Bomber. Most strategic bombers have a take-off weight of more than 200 tons, and can take a bomb load to a range of at least 12,000 kilometers. At present, only the United States and Russia and Europe have the ability to develop commercial large aircraft. The large aircrafts build by China are acceptable for military use, but there is a little gap between them for civilian use. Besides, large civilian aircraft cannot be directly used for military use, and the technical requirements for military use are much higher than those for civilian use. From the point of view of structural strength, a large aircraft should be made light enough, but also have very strong structural strength. This alone is not something that ordinary countries can accomplish.
The other is the engine. Aircraft Engines is the crown jewel of the aviation industry, which restricts most countries from equipping various types of aircraft. There are only six or seven countries capable of producing military aircraft, but many of these aircrafts cannot be used directly. For example, China can now produce some good quality aircraft engines, which belong to the small bypass ratio turbofan engines for fighter jets, and there is a problem of very high fuel consumption when installed on strategic bombers. And the reason why the H-20 being developed by China has been continuously delayed . Although China is testing engines to equip this bomber.
In addition to the aircraft engines and airframe structure, there is another question that everyone usually ignores, that is, is the entire industrial system perfect? The research and development of any large-scale military equipment is demand-driven and requires the endorsement of an entire industrial system. Just completing the manufacture of the bomber does not mean that it has an intercontinental bombing capability. Strategic bombers also need to establish comprehensive military systems such as navigation, early warning, defense, and attack. These are standard for big countries, and small countries are simply unable to complete the construction of such a large-scale military system. Now the air defense systems of various countries are very advanced, and strategic bombers can no longer use carpet bombing to carry out missions, because the opponent’s air defense system will make the bomber’s survival very vulnerable, so it needs to rely on more advanced bomber weapons to provide them with vision. On the basis of long-range strikes, strategic bombers will likely become missile-carrying aircrafts in the future.
For their own safety, the missiles they carry are basically all cruise missiles. At present, the only countries capable of developing very-long-range cruise missiles are China, the United States and Russia, and India may be added in this list in future.
The existence of various restrictive factors is destined that the strategic weapon of strategic bombers can only be the standard of a few countries!
As a strategic-level weapon, strategic bombers cannot be bought in the international arms market, and most countries do not have strategic strike missions! The cost of retaining strategic bombers is not affordable for ordinary countries!
A heavy fighter with a combat radius of 1,500 kilometers is considered a sub-strategic weapon that can change the geopolitical landscape. There are generally conditions attached to the sales on the international arms market. For example, Japan’s F-15J, when the United States sold it to Japan, only retained the air combat capability, and castrated the ground-to-sea attack capability of this aircraft. Another example is the Su-30MKI purchased by India from Russia. Although Russia did not say it, the radar performance of this aircraft is not too good. Even the Su-30MKK sold by Russia to China has this same problem. Although the performance of the fighter is not serious, but because there is no open source code for countries who buy these weapons, we can only use the airborne weapons imported from Russia. These weapons themselves are downgraded vaerions of the original version, which is very different from the original airborne weapon.
Iran has also purchased F-14 Tomcat fighter jets from the United States, but it is too old, and in 50 years, these fighter jets are destined to be basically scrapped. There are so many restrictive factors for the export of heavy fighters, and it is impossible for strategic bombers to become an export option in the international market. That is to say, a country that does not have the ability to develop strategic bombers cannot buy strategic bombers in the international market. A country equipped with this level of weapons means extending its own combat boundaries, which itself is a change in the world pattern, so no country will be stupid enough to export strategic bombers, no matter how short of money, it will not be big.
In addition, the airborne weapons of strategic bombers will not be sold to the countries because they are restricted by international treaties. The current international treaty limits the range of precision-guided weapons to 300 kilometers, and most countries have joined this treaty. This also means that countries that are unable to develop longer-range weapons have very limited combat capabilities, or the degree of external threat is insufficient. Even if you have a strategic bomber without supporting weapons, you cannot attack outside the opponent’s defense area, which is very dangerous in itself, so I won’t go into details here!
As the highest level of existence in the field of fighter aircraft, strategic bombers also have a very large limiting factor that limits most national equipment. That factor is cost, it’s money. The typical characteristics of high-tech weapons are their high prices and maintenance costs. Such weapons have the ability to change the balance of power, but they also need to be invested very large amounts of money. The unit price of the American B-2 Spirit bomber is 2.1 billion US dollars, which makes bombers extremely expensive. At the same time, holding this kind of aircraft also requires the establishment of an expensive maintenance system on the ground. During the service cycle of a B2, the estimated total cost of consumption will exceed 10 billion US dollars. Most countries in the world spend less than $10 billion in military spending. Even if you give them the plane, they may not be able to afford it.
The strategic bomber itself is a competitive product in the field of space-based nuclear power competition between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It is a super weapon developed by both parties to make up for the strengthening of air-based nuclear forces. This kind of weapon is technically complex, expensive, and has a huge holding cost, and it is not something that ordinary countries can afford.
Russia has started the production of Tupolev Tu-160M2 Strategic Bombers indicating that Russia is not ready to develop stealth strategic bombers with better performance. China is slowly making progress in this field. As the country with the largest numbers of strategic bombers in the world, the United States has been the first country in the world to operate strategic bombers and also has the longest operating experience in this field.