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, and cities). In addition to strategic bombing, strategic bombers can be used for tactical missions. There are currently three countries that operate strategic bombers: the United States, Russia, and China.
A penetrator is a long-range bomber aircraft designed to penetrate enemy defenses. The term is mostly applied to aircraft that fly at low altitude in order to avoid radar, a strategic counterpart to the shorter-ranged tactical interdictor designs like the TSR-2 and F-111. However, the term can be applied to any aircraft that is designed to survive over enemy airspace, and has also been used for the penetration fighter designs that were designed to escort the bombers.
A bomber is a combat aircraft designed to attack ground and naval targets by dropping air-to-ground weaponry, firing torpedoes and bullets, or deploying air-launched cruise missiles.
An aircraft is a machine that is able to fly by gaining support from the air. It counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines. Common examples of aircraft include airplanes, helicopters, airships, gliders, and hot air balloons.
The modern strategic bomber role appeared after strategic bombing was widely employed, and atomic bombs were first used in combat during World War II. Nuclear strike missions (i.e., delivering nuclear-armed missiles or bombs) can potentially be carried out by most modern fighter-bombers and strike fighters, even at intercontinental range, with the use of aerial refueling , so any nation possessing this combination of equipment and techniques theoretically has such capability. Primary delivery aircraft for a modern strategic bombing mission need not always necessarily be a heavy bomber type, and any modern aircraft capable of nuclear strikes at long range is equally able to carry out tactical missions with conventional weapons. An example is France's Mirage IV, a small strategic bomber replaced in service by the ASMP-equipped Mirage 2000N fighter-bomber and Rafale multirole fighter.
Strategic bombing during World War II was the sustained aerial attack on railways, harbours, cities, workers' and civilian housing, and industrial districts in enemy territory during World War II. Strategic bombing is a military strategy which is distinct from both close air support of ground forces and tactical air power.
During the final stage of World War II, the United States detonated two nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively. The United States dropped the bombs after obtaining the consent of the United Kingdom, as required by the Quebec Agreement. The two bombings killed 129,000–226,000 people, most of whom were civilians. They remain the only use of nuclear weapons in the history of armed conflict.
World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.
The first strategic bombing efforts took place during World War I (1914–18), by the Russians with their Sikorsky Ilya Muromets bomber (the first heavy four-engine aircraft), and by the Germans using Zeppelins or long-range multi-engine Gotha aircraft. Zeppelins reached England on bombing raids by 1915, forcing the British to create extensive defense systems including some of the first anti-aircraft guns which were often used with searchlights to highlight the enemy machines overhead. Late in the war, American fliers under the command of Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell were developing multi-aircraft "mass" bombing missions behind German lines, although the Armistice ended full realization of what was being planned.
The Russian Empire, also known as Imperial Russia or simply Russia, was an empire that existed across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.
The Sikorsky Ilya Muromets were a class of Russian pre-World War I large four-engine commercial airliners and military heavy bombers used during World War I by the Russian Empire. The aircraft series was named after Ilya Muromets, a hero from Slavic mythology. The series was based on the Russky Vityaz or Le Grand, the world's first four-engined aircraft, designed by Igor Sikorsky. The Ilya Muromets aircraft as it appeared in 1913 was a revolutionary design, intended for commercial service with its spacious fuselage incorporating a passenger saloon and washroom on board. During World War I, it became the first four-engine bomber to equip a dedicated strategic bombing unit. This heavy bomber was unrivaled in the early stages of the war, as the Central Powers had no aircraft capable enough to rival it until much later.
The German Empire, also known as Imperial Germany, was the German nation state that existed from the unification of Germany in 1871 until the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918.
Study of strategic bombing continued in the interwar years. Many books and articles predicted a fearful prospect for any future war, paced by political fears such as those expressed by British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin who told the House of Commons early in the 1930s that "the bomber will always get through" no matter what defensive systems were undertaken. It was widely believed by the late 1930s that strategic "terror" bombing of cities in any war would quickly result in devastating losses and might decide a conflict in a matter of days or weeks. But theory far exceeded what most air forces could actually put into the air. Germany focused on short-range tactical bombers. Britain's Royal Air Force began developing four-engine long-range bombers only in the late 1930s. The U.S. Army Air Corps (Army Air Forces as of mid-1941) was severely limited by small budgets in the late 1930s, and only barely saved the B-17 bomber that would soon be vital. The equally important B-24 first flew in 1939. Both aircraft would constitute the bulk of the American bomber force that made the Allied daylight bombing of Nazi Germany possible in 1943–45.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister directs both the executive and the legislature, and together with their Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Monarch, to Parliament, to their political party and ultimately to the electorate. The office of Prime Minister is one of the Great Offices of State. The current holder of the office, Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party, was appointed by the Queen on 13 July 2016.
Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, was a British Conservative Party statesman who dominated the government of the United Kingdom between the world wars, serving as Prime Minister on three occasions.
The House of Commons, officially the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the upper house, the House of Lords, it meets in the Palace of Westminster. Owing to shortage of space, its office accommodation extends into Portcullis House.
At the start of World War II, so-called "strategic" bombing was initially carried out by medium bomber aircraft which were typically twin-engined, armed with several defensive guns, but only possessed limited bomb-carrying capacity and range. Both Britain and the US were developing larger two- and four-engined designs, which began to replace or supplement the smaller aircraft by 1941–42. After American entry into the war, late, in 1941, the U.S. 8th Air Force began to develop a daylight bombing capacity using improved B-17 and B-24 four-engine aircraft. In order to assemble the formations to carry out these bombing campaigns, assembly ships were used to quickly form defensive combat boxes. The RAF concentrated its efforts on night bombing. But neither force was able to develop adequate bombsights or tactics to allow for often-bragged "pinpoint" accuracy. The post-war U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey studies supported the overall notion of strategic bombing, but underlined many of its shortcomings as well. Attempts to create pioneering examples of "smart bombs" resulted in the Azon ordnance, deployed in the European Theater and CBI Theater from B-24s.
A medium bomber is a military bomber aircraft designed to operate with medium-sized bombloads over medium range distances; the name serves to distinguish this type from larger heavy bombers and smaller light bombers. Mediums generally carried about two tons of bombs, compared to light bombers that carried one ton, and heavies that carried four or more.
A fixed-wing aircraft is a flying machine, such as an airplane or aeroplane, which is capable of flight using wings that generate lift caused by the aircraft's forward airspeed and the shape of the wings. Fixed-wing aircraft are distinct from rotary-wing aircraft, and ornithopters. The wings of a fixed-wing aircraft are not necessarily rigid; kites, hang gliders, variable-sweep wing aircraft and aeroplanes that use wing morphing are all examples of fixed-wing aircraft.
An aerial bomb is a type of explosive or incendiary weapon intended to travel through the air on a predictable trajectory, usually designed to be dropped from an aircraft. Aerial bombs include a vast range and complexity of designs, from unguided gravity bombs to guided bombs, hand tossed from a vehicle, to needing a large specially built delivery vehicle; or perhaps be the vehicle itself such as a glide bomb, instant detonation or delay-action bomb. The act is termed aerial bombing. As with other types of explosive weapons, aerial bombs are designed to kill and injure people and destroy materiel through the projection of blast and fragmentation outwards from the point of detonation.
Following the untimely death of the top German advocate for strategic bombing, General Walther Wever in early June 1936, the focus of Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe bomber forces, the so-named Kampfgeschwader (bomber wings) became the battlefield support of the German Army as part of the general Blitzkrieg form of warfare, carried out with both medium bombers such as the Heinkel He 111, and Schnellbombers such as the Junkers Ju 88A. General Wever's support of the Ural bomber project before WW II's start dwindled after his passing, with the only aircraft design that could closely match the Allied bomber force's own aircraft – the early November 1937-origin Heinkel He 177A, deployed in its initial form in 1941–42, hampered by a RLM requirement for the He 177A to also perform medium-angle dive bombing, not rescinded until September 1942 – unable to perform either function properly, with a powerplant selection and particular powerplant installation design features on the 30-meter wingspan Greif, that led to endless problems with engine fires. The March 1942-origin, trans-Atlantic ranged Amerika Bomber program sought to ameliorate the lack of a seriously long-ranged bomber for the Luftwaffe, but resulted with only three Messerschmitt-built and a pair of Junkers-built prototypes ever flown, and no operational "heavy bombers" for strategic use for the Third Reich, outside of the roughly one thousand examples of the He 177 that were built.
Walther Wever was a pre-World War II Luftwaffe Commander. He was an early proponent of the theory of strategic bombing as a means to wage war, while opposing the theories of Giulio Douhet. He died in an air crash in 1936.
The Luftwaffe was the aerial warfare branch of the combined German Wehrmacht military forces during World War II. Germany's military air arms during World War I, the Luftstreitkräfte of the Army and the Marine-Fliegerabteilung of the Navy, had been disbanded in May 1920 as a result of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles which stated that Germany was forbidden to have any air force.
Kampfgeschwader are the German-language name for bomber units. In WW1, they were air squadrons, while in WW2, they were air wings.
By the end of the Second World War in 1945, the "heavy" bomber, epitomized by the British Avro Lancaster and American Boeing B-29 Superfortress used in the Pacific Theater, showed what could be accomplished by area bombing of Japan's cities and the often small and dispersed factories within them. Under Major General Curtis LeMay, the U.S. 20th Air Force, based in the Mariana Islands, undertook low-level incendiary bombing missions, results of which were soon measured in the number of square miles destroyed. The air raids on Japan had withered the nation's ability to continue fighting, although the Japanese government delayed surrender, resulting the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
During the Cold War, the United States and United Kingdom on one side and the Soviet Union on the other kept strategic bombers ready to take off on short notice as part of the deterrent strategy of mutual assured destruction (MAD). Most strategic bombers of the two superpowers were designed to deliver nuclear weapons. For a time, some squadrons of Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers were kept in the air around the clock, orbiting some distance away from their fail-safe points near the Soviet border.
The British produced three different types of "V bombers" for the Royal Air Force which were designed and designated to be able to deliver British-made nuclear bombs to targets in European Russia. These bombers would have been able to reach and destroy cities like Kiev or Moscow before American strategic bombers. While they were never used against the Soviet Union or its allies, two types of V bombers, the Avro Vulcan and the Handley Page Victor were used in the Falklands War towards the end of their operational lives.
The Soviet Union produced hundreds of unlicensed, reverse-engineered copies of the American Boeing B-29 Superfortress, which the Soviet Air Forces called the Tupolev Tu-4. The Soviets later developed the jet-powered Tupolev Tu-16 "Badger".
The People's Republic of China produced a version of Tupolev Tu-16 on license from the Soviet Union in the 1960s which they named the Xian H-6; it remains in service today.
During the 1960s France produced its Dassault Mirage IV nuclear-armed bomber for the French Air Force as a part of its independent nuclear strike force, the Force de Frappe , using French-made bombers and IRBMs to deliver French-made nuclear weapons. Mirage IVs served until mid-1996 in the bomber role, and to 2005 as a reconnaissance aircraft.
Today the French Republic has limited its strategic armaments to a squadron of four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, with 16 SLBM tubes apiece. France also maintains an active force of supersonic fighter-bombers carrying stand-off nuclear missiles such as the ASMP, with Mach 3 speed and a range of 500 kilometers. These missiles can be delivered by the Dassault Mirage 2000N and Rafale fighter-bombers; the Rafale is also capable of refueling others in flight using a buddy refueling pod.
Newer strategic bombers such as the Rockwell International B-1B Lancer, the Tupolev Tu-160, and the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit designs incorporate various levels of stealth technology in an effort to avoid detection, especially by radar networks. Despite these advances earlier strategic bombers, for example the B-52 (last produced in 1962) or the Tupolev Tu-95 remain in service and can also deploy the latest air-launched cruise missiles and other "stand-off" or precision guided weapons such as the JASSM and the JDAM.
The Russian Air Force's new Tu-160 strategic bombers are expected to be delivered on a regular basis over the course of 10 to 20 years. In addition, the current Tu-95 and Tu-160 bombers will be periodically updated, as was done during the 1990s with the Tu-22M bombers.
Strategic bombers of the Cold War were primarily armed with nuclear weapons. During the post-1940s Indochina Wars, and also since the end of the Cold War, modern bombers originally intended for strategic use have been exclusively employed using non-nuclear, high explosive weapons. During the Vietnam War, Operation Menu, Operation Freedom Deal, Gulf War, military action in Afghanistan, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, American B-52s and B-1s were mostly employed in tactical roles. During the Soviet-Afghan war in 1979–88, Soviet Air Forces Tu-22Ms carried out several mass air raids in various regions of Afghanistan.
Bombers listed below were used in the main or represented a shift in long-range bomber design (Maximum bomb load). In practice, bomb loads carried are dependent on factors such as the distance to target and the individual type, size or weight of bombs used.
Nomenclature for size classification of aircraft types used in strategic bombing varies, particularly since the time of World War II due to sequential technological advancements and changes in aerial warfare strategy and tactics. The B-29, for example was a benchmark aircraft of the heavy bomber type at end of World War II due to its size, range and load carrying ability; as the Cold War began, it became an intercontinental range strategic bomber with the development of new techniques, such as aerial refueling (which also greatly extended the range of other medium- to long-range bombers, fighter-bombers and attack aircraft).
During the 1950s the U.S. Strategic Air Command also briefly brought back the outdated term "medium bomber" to distinguish its Boeing B-47 Stratojets from somewhat larger contemporary Boeing B-52 Stratofortress "heavy bombers" in bombardment wings; older B-29 and B-50 heavy bombers were also redesignated as "medium" during this period.SAC's nomenclature here was purely semantic and bureaucratic, however as both the B-47 and B-52 strategic bombers were much larger and had far greater performance and load-carrying ability than any of the World War II-era heavy or medium bombers.
Other aircraft such as the twin-jet US FB-111, Douglas A-3 Skywarrior and France's Dassault Mirage IV had nominal warloads of less than 20,000 lb (9,100 kg), and were significantly smaller in size and gross weight compared with their strategic bomber contemporaries, based on which they might be classified as medium bombers . In the nuclear strike role, France would replace its Mirage IVs beginning in the late 1980s with the even smaller, single-engine Mirage 2000N fighter-bomber, a further example of advancing technologies and changing tactics in military aviation and aircraft design. France's newer twin-engine Dassault Rafale multirole fighter also has nuclear strike capability.
Weapons loads can include nuclear-armed missiles as well as aerial bombs
A light bomber is a relatively small and fast type of military bomber aircraft that was primarily employed before the 1950s. Such aircraft would typically not carry more than one ton of ordnance.
The Tupolev Tu-16 was a twin-engined jet strategic heavy bomber used by the Soviet Union. It has flown for more than 60 years, and the Chinese licence-built Xian H-6 remains in service with the People's Liberation Army Air Force.
Heavy bombers are bomber aircraft capable of delivering the largest payload of air-to-ground weaponry and longest range of their era. Archetypal heavy bombers have therefore usually been among the largest and most powerful military aircraft at any point in time. In the second half of the 20th century, heavy bombers were largely superseded by strategic bombers, which were often smaller in size, but were capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
The Tupolev Tu-4 is a piston-engined Soviet strategic bomber that served the Soviet Air Force from the late 1940s to mid-1960s. It was reverse-engineered from the American Boeing B-29 Superfortress.
The Dassault Mirage IV was a French jet-propelled supersonic strategic bomber and deep-reconnaissance aircraft. Developed by Dassault Aviation, the aircraft entered service with the French Air Force in October 1964. For many years it was a vital part of the nuclear triad of the Force de Frappe, France's nuclear deterrent striking force. The Mirage IV was retired from the nuclear strike role in 1996, and the type was entirely retired from operational service in 2005.
The Tupolev Tu-95 is a large, four-engine turboprop-powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 entered service with the Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Aerospace Forces until at least 2040. A development of the bomber for maritime patrol is designated Tu-142, while a passenger airliner derivative was called Tu-114.
The Tupolev Tu-28 was a long-range interceptor aircraft introduced by the Soviet Union in the 1960s. The official designation was Tu-128, but this designation was less commonly used in the West. It was the largest and heaviest fighter ever in service.
A supersonic aircraft is an aircraft able to fly faster than the speed of sound. Supersonic aircraft were developed in the second half of the twentieth century and have been used almost entirely for research and military purposes. Only two, Concorde and the Tupolev Tu-144, ever entered service for civil use as airliners. Fighter jets are the most common example of supersonic aircraft.
Boeing XB-55 was a proposed Boeing aircraft designed to be a strategic bomber. The XB-55 was intended to be a replacement for the Boeing B-47 Stratojet in United States Air Force (USAF) service.
Wings was an hour-long televised aviation history documentary program which aired on the Discovery Channel family of networks. It was produced by Phil Osborn.
The Next-Generation Bomber was a program to develop a new medium bomber for the United States Air Force. The NGB was initially projected to enter service around 2018 as a stealthy, subsonic, medium-range, medium payload bomber to supplement and possibly—to a limited degree—replace the U.S. Air Force's aging bomber fleet. The NGB program was superseded by the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) heavy bomber program.
The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is an American long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber. The B-52 was designed and built by Boeing, which has continued to provide support and upgrades. It has been operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) since the 1950s. The bomber is capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg) of weapons, and has a typical combat range of more than 8,800 miles (14,080 km) without aerial refueling.
Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) is a Major Command (MAJCOM) of the United States Air Force, headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. AFGSC provides combat-ready forces to conduct strategic nuclear deterrence and global strike operations in support of combatant commanders. It is subordinated to the USSTRATCOM.
The Long Range Strike Bomber program (LRS-B) is a development and acquisition program to develop a long-range strategic bomber for the United States Air Force, intended to be a heavy-payload stealth aircraft capable of delivering thermonuclear weapons. Initial capability is planned for the mid-2020s. A request for proposal to develop the aircraft was issued in July 2014. The Air Force plans to purchase 80–100 LRS-B aircraft at a cost of $550 million each. A development contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman for its B-21 Raider in October 2015.
The H-3 airstrike was a surprise air attack by the Iranian Air Force during the Iran–Iraq War on 4 April 1981 against the airbases of the Iraqi Air Force at the H-3 complex in western Iraq. It is considered the most sophisticated operation carried out by the Iranian Air Force during the war. The Iranians claimed that they destroyed 48 Iraqi aircraft on the ground with no losses of their own.
The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is an American heavy bomber under development by Northrop Grumman. As part of the Long Range Strike Bomber program (LRS-B), it is to be a very long-range, stealth strategic bomber for the United States Air Force capable of delivering conventional and thermonuclear weapons.
The Tupolev Voron was a planned supersonic unmanned reconnaissance aircraft of the Soviet Union manufactured by the company Tupolev, largely based on or designed to compete with the Lockheed D-21.