The next bomber in the US Air Force inventory should be stealthy and subsonic. It should travel 2,000-nautical miles to its target and have enough fuel on board to get home. It should carry at least 28 500-pound bombs. And (surprise!) there should be a human pilot on board.
These are the conclusions of the Air Force's recently completed analysis of alternatives for a next-generation bomber to be fielded around 2018.
This is supposed to be a new thing, of course, but those specifications seem strangely familiar.
Anyone remember the A-12 Avenger II? It, too, was a stealthy, subsonic, manned aircraft that blurred the boundary between an attack aircraft and a bomber.
Dick Cheney cancelled the A-12 program on 7 January 1991, just as the bombs started to fall on Baghdad during Operation Desert Storm.
True, the A-12 was conceived as a carrier-based land attack aircraft, but it wasn't entirely a Navy bird. According to our dog-eared copy of Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1991-92, a "USAF A-12" had been proposed as a replacement for the F-111.
The F-111 was designed to carry 24 500-pound bombs and travel 1,800 miles, and it's not unfair to think the proposed USAF variant of the super-secret A-12 would have been very similar in capability.
So, congratulations, taxpayers: Watch the Air Force spend billions of dollars over the next decade for an aircraft that General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas very nearly delivered to the navy and the air force 15 years ago.
The Washington Post reported today the law suit between the government, General Dynamics and Boeing Co. that festered for years over the cancellation of the A-12 program has been adjudicated in favor of the governments position.
-- Stephen Trimble
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims upheld the government's 1991 decision to terminate the companies' contract for the A-12 radar-evading plane, General Dynamics and Boeing said.
The "contracting officer could have concluded that McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics had 'no reasonable likelihood' of delivering the aircraft on time as measured by the schedule," Judge Robert H. Hodges wrote in the decision. McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997. "We must again uphold the Government's default termination"
The debate dates to the eve of the Persian Gulf War in January 1991 when Dick Cheney, who was defense secretary, canceled the program, which was over budget and behind schedule. The Pentagon demanded return of the $1.3 billion it had invested in the plane, and General Dynamics sued, arguing that the real reason for the cancellation was that the Pentagon needed money for the war. No A-12s were ever built.
The case has been in the courts for years and became a symbol for the difficulty of canceling a weapons program. In 2002, the Navy told General Dynamics and Boeing to pay $2.3 billion to settle the case, which the companies refused to do. That demand included $1 billion in interest.