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

And will this "bomber" actually carry laser guns?

Mar 8, 2014 at 9:15AM

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.

Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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