Will the U.S. Air Force's Next Stealth Bomber Be a Robot?

America is building a new stealth bomber.


Shh! Don't tell anyone! This is what the Air Force's new Long Range Strike Bomber might look like. Source: Boeing.

That much is clear from the Pentagon's contribution to President Obama's 2015 budget request to Congress. While cutting finding for such popular programs as the U-2 spyplane and A-10 Thunderbolt II, the Pentagon has confirmed that its request for $109.3 billion in funding will preserve funding needed to develop the long-anticipated Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB).

But what kind of bomber will it be?


You've come a long way, baby. This is what U.S. Air Force bombers used to look like. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

A stealthy, high-tech, high-priced warplane ...
We know a few things about the planned LRSB. First, it won't look much like those B-26s pictured up above. Second, that two teams of planebuilders are expected to bid to build the new bomber. One team will center on Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) , builder of the B-2 Stealth Bomber. The other team will include a collaborative effort by Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) .

We know, too, that the Air Force expects to take about a decade to build the LRSB, with the first units of the plane not going into service until sometime in the mid-2020s.

And we know that the Air Force anticipates spending upwards of $55 billion to build the LRSB, and that it hopes to eventually acquire between 80 and 100 of the new bombers. The Air Force plans to spend about $550 million per plane (exclusive of R&D costs), and if it can get 100 planes at that price -- great. But if it can't, then it may have to accept fewer planes at higher price tags.

... but "stealth" plane in more ways than one
What we don't know is what, exactly, we will get for our money. The Air Force says it plans to issue a request for proposals to build the LRSB sometime this fall. Sources suggest USAF will want the LRSB to carry a "significant" payload of munitions, both direct-attack and stand-off weapons.

Ordinarily, this would mean bombs and missiles. But according to DefenseNews.com, the LSRB might be an even more interesting plane. There is at least a possibility that the new bomber could be fueled by alternative energy sources, such as jet fuel developed from algae. And it could be equipped with such hi-tech weaponry concepts as "hypersonic" missiles, and even "directed energy" weapons -- real, honest-to-goodness laser guns.

Probably the biggest revelation from DefenseNews.com, though, is the possibility that the Pentagon may pick a robot to pilot its highest-tech, long-range stealth bomber. Discussing plans for the LRSB at the annual Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., last month, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and requirements Lt. Gen. Burton Field said that early models of the LRSB will be "manned" aircraft. But the Air Force is giving serious consideration to making the warbird optionally "unmanned."

Put more plainly, this $550 million warplane could morph into a remote-controlled drone.

What it means to you
For investors, this offhand comment by the general could prove key to predicting who wins the contract to build the Long Range Strike Bomber. Currently, two companies are generally recognized as leaders in field of drone aircraft.

The undisputed, heavyweight champion of the drone-building world is General Atomics, a pioneer in unmanned aerial vehicles, and the maker of the popular Predator and Reaper drones. GA, however, is not expected to bid on LRSB. (And even if it did, GA is privately owned, so not something you could invest in in any event.)

The other leader in drone tech is Northrop Grumman, which built the B-2 bomber, and builds the Global Hawk and X-47B carrier-launched combat drone today -- and Northrop is a publicly traded stock. Priced at a P/E ratio cheaper than those of either Boeing or Lockheed Martin, Northrop is arguably a better buy than its rivals already. Add its twin advantages in drone technology, and in B-2 bomber-building, and Northrop could become the favorite in the contest to build the new LRSB -- and a long-term winner for investors.


Northrop Grumman built this B-2. Will it build us a B-3, too? Photo: Northrop Grumman.

Oh, and one more thing
Did I mention that Northrop Grumman pays its shareholders a 2% dividend yield? Mustn't forget that bit -- because over time, generous dividend-paying defense stocks like Northrop can make you rich. While they don't garner the notability of high-flying tech stocks, dividend-paying stocks are also less likely to crash and burn. And over the long term, the compounding effect of the quarterly payouts, as well as their growth, adds up faster than most investors imagine. With this in mind, our analysts sat down to identify the absolute best of the best when it comes torock-solid dividend stocks, drawing up a list in this free report of nine that fit the bill. To discover the identities of these companies before the rest of the market catches on, you can download this valuable free report by simply clicking here now.


Read/Post Comments (12) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 08, 2014, at 12:44 PM, dangibson wrote:

    Don't know about it being a ''Stealth robot aircraft'' however a couple things for sure -- there will be massive cost ''over runs'' -- ''delays in delivery of a workable aircraft'' -- ''and bonuses paid for absolutely no reason'' -- those things you can be sure of -- as for the aircraft ever being produced - who care --

  • Report this Comment On March 08, 2014, at 1:22 PM, trebzak wrote:

    " real, honest-to-goodness laser guns."

    Maybe, but I think not. Directed energy weapons require a lot of electrical power to operate, generating that electrical power reduces the power available for other purposes, and thus these weapons are better suited to a Naval vessel (which needs to produce a very large amount of power in the first place) than an Air Force jet.

    Directed energy ("laser") weapons do sound cool, but I wonder how certina issues will be addressed. What is the range over which that directed energy is harmful? I am a gun owner, and one of the basic rules of safety is to be certain of your target AND what is behind it. What happens when the laser misses its intended target? Will not that laser beam continue on for miles beyond? Similarly, if the laser succeeds in punching through its intended target, will not that laser beam continue beyond the intended target?

  • Report this Comment On March 08, 2014, at 4:07 PM, bayousaint wrote:

    Directed energy (lasers) weapons will only be affective as an anti missile or anti aircraft add on, supporting the true strategic requirement of these planes (dropping nuclear bombs).

    Sad we have to build them, but part of the triad...

  • Report this Comment On March 08, 2014, at 4:47 PM, Americaisdying wrote:

    It will have lasers and leather seats even though it is unmanned. A full kitchen and 2 1/2 baths, this makes sense because it will be parked near the other nearly one trillion dollar plane we cannot use. At least it will provide"affordable" housing in keeping with the "affordable" healthcare we all enjoy so much. May God bless America because if he does not we are through.

  • Report this Comment On March 08, 2014, at 5:31 PM, JTRK wrote:

    Anyone we would attack/retaliate has the capability of shooting down our satellites. Without them, all the pilotless aircraft/boats are useless. Then again, if it goes that far, it is balls-to-the-wall war.

    We do need some of these though, but only about 6. With them being pilotless they can carry twice the payload of the B1 and still (in theory) be cheaper.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 1:30 AM, PeakOilBill wrote:

    And China and Russia will hack the plans on the Internet before the first part is manufactured.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 7:36 AM, Chevynuts33 wrote:

    Will the U.S. Air Force's Next Stealth Bomber Be a Robot?

    The only answer is ask another question, will Lockheed Martians be able to convence the government to spend the money that will comprise 2-4 trillion over two decades?

    Going by past results, the answer is obvious, but with another question... why should the Americans be fooled into spending to what will be their own SDI debacle as did Russia- go broke?

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 9:00 AM, JosephLong65 wrote:

    Many of today's fighter jets already have capabilities that far surpass the pilots ability to survive them. The F22 and the newer F35 can make turns that will cause the pilot to blackout. These planes will need to become pilotless. But, how will the remote pilots adapt to the visuals that are projected.

    It would be a natural progression to have bombers pilotless. "Crews" could change midway through the mission, being fully rested and alert. I have a feeling that mid-air refueling might be tricky, since the timing of maneuvers has a delay from the satellite feed. But, it will happen.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 1:15 PM, Azbill007 wrote:

    Another military boondoggle in the making. Why do we need more long range bombers? I thought rockets were the weapon of choice for long range missions and we have lots of rockets. This is just another example of out of control military spending. We don't fund proven and inexpensive aircraft but focus on Star Wars projects which guarantee poor performance and massive cost overruns

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 3:15 PM, joeching wrote:

    the president is already a robot, emulating the warmonkeying ways of bush. jr.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 3:35 PM, ospreycbk wrote:

    We already have more than enough rockets, missiles, and manned bombers with which to deliver death and destruction upon any enemy of our choosing, so why do we need this.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2014, at 2:34 AM, envy wrote:

    yes the robot bomber is a step up but losing the internet will be 2 steps back

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