back to article US $250m superbomber 'almost as good' as $8m robot

General David Petraeus - the famous US officer who oversaw the "surge" in Iraq and is now set to take over the war in Afghanistan - has delivered a stinging bitchslap to the US Air Force's fleets of heavy manned bombers. Petraeus says that a mighty 200 tonne, quarter-billion-dollar B-1 "Lancer" is "almost" as good as having a …


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  1. Charles Calthrop
    Dead Vulture


    Surgical is the wrong term for a bomb. I don't want to start a debate about peace and love, I am talking about the meaning of words in the English Language

    1. Nexox Enigma


      """Surgical is the wrong term for a bomb."""

      I believe the term was used to describe a rather small (relatively, 20lb of explosives) missile, the Hellfire. And yes, compared to a 500lb laser guided bomb, the missile sure would be considered surgical. You could probably knock out a SUV full of rebels/terrorists/used car salesmen without killing too many people around the vehecle. Anything that the B1 has to offer would probably leave you with a smoking crater and quite a bit of collateral damage.

    2. loopy lou

      Military usage

      Well, "pertaining to surgery" still fits, as in leading to considerable need for...


      Ignoring the tech on a tech site.

      These probably aren't your grandpa's bombs. Even back then they were experimenting with guided bombs so that they could actually hit what they wanted to. Clobbering the whole rest of the city isn't just barbaric but it's also very wasteful.

      People have no appreciation for history.

      A 1000 bomber raid is what isn't surgical.

  2. Douglas Fingles

    Singular, not plural

    The B-1's nickname (unofficially), is the "bone", not "bones".

  3. Anton Zeelie
    Thumb Down

    But manned aircraft cannot be jammed and taken over...

    Previously it has been reported that unmanned Predators have been taken over by unknown parties. This is the one thing that all the "let's make everything un-manned" battalion seem to forget. If your frequencies get jammed or the weapons platform is being taken over, even a Cessna 125 with a passenger armed with a pistol and handgrenades is more effective, and at least cannot easily be used against yourself....

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Never seen "Thunderball" then

      Claiming "more secure control" for blowing a few thousand million USD of taxpayers' money on a fleet of warshit consumer goods that no-one needs probably means that "scraping the barrel" needs to be upgraded to a new superlative expression.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      @Anton Zeelie

      "Previously it has been reported that unmanned Predators have been taken over by unknown parties"

      Reported where? I can recall one incident where a drone had to be shot down by a manned fighter, but this was a loss of control rather than the drone being "taken over" by someone else.

      1. JEDIDIAH

        Fighters versus heavy bombers

        Ultimately you've got remote fighters being pitted against manned bombers. Of course the bomber is going to look expensive. It's expensive even when compared a manned fighter. Any smaller aircraft is going to be cheaper and more "surgical" than a strategic bomber that has it's roots in planes that destroyed entire cities with conventional ordinance.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Shenanigans @ Anton Zeelie

      I'm going to have to call Shenanigans on this one. Can you please link the "previous reports" about unmanned Predators being taken over. The comms links to them are encrypted in a way that no-one is going to be able to crack. This means even if you managed to jam the thing you can't "take control" of the drone. Furthermore, the drones use satellite communication links now, which means with a directional aerial that points towards the satellite you can forget about being able to jam the things either. Add to that the fact that they are a hell of a lot harder to shoot down or detect than a monster huge bomber, and we have less and less need to manned aircraft.

      Check your facts before you next try and justify the unjustifiable. By the way, feel free to check my facts - Jane's is a good starting place, wikipedia will give you much of that information if you fancy checking it out.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        @AC, RE: Shenanigans @ Anton Zeelie

        "Add to that the fact that they are a hell of a lot harder to shoot down or detect than a monster huge bomber, and we have less and less need to manned aircraft."

        Not on Modern Warfare 2 they aren't. I can shoot down drones all day, but I've never managed to bag a B1 yet....

        Mine's the one with the FMJ's in the pocket.

    4. Marcus Aurelius

      No control takeover has been reported that the video data sent from UAVs was unencrypted and could easily be received, but the control data is an entirely different matter.

  4. Anonymous Coward


    So basically he is saying you need the right tool for the job. The B-1 isn't the right tool. A bit like using a 50lb sledge when you need a pickax.

  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Four tons of bombs

    Or, eight thousand pounds if you're leftpondian... remind me again how much a 70-year old Lancaster can carry?

    1. NBRed5


      Yeah ,but a Lancaster is not exactly able to fly supersonic is it!!!!!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        And what exactly does supersonic give you here?

        In fact for Afganistan the best manned aircraft may actually still be another 70 years old aircraft - IL-2 - aka Sturmovik aka The Flying Tank. Just arm it with modern guided bombs and missiles. With modern tech it will cost pennies to produce.

        It is invulnerable to nearly anything that is presently in Taleban's arsenal and it can stay over the battlefield and pound it. And again. And again. And again. And again...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Battlefield? What battlefield?

          The brave and free guys out west have their own sturmovik, the a-10 warthog aka flying gattling gun. It'll fly backwards firing that thing and it'll cut right through tanks, too.

          Only the taliban don't have much tanks to cut in two.

          Recall that this is asymmetric warfare, and all the tech is a totally k-rad jolly piss-poor replacement for the HUMINT the americans are constitutionally incapable of gathering over there. Oh, and recall that this new guy is, not to put a too fine point on it, a yes-man. I don't think he really intended this as a snub, no matter how deserved it would be.

          America lives and dies by its military-industrial complex, everyone else has to march in step or else, yet it can't convincingly ``win'' from a sack of beardy explodey turbans. Not even with help from its ``allies''. What do we give them our banking data for again? Why are we still siding with these high-tech losers?

          1. disgruntled yank

            time to bring back General Elphinstone!

            "yet it can't convincingly ``win'' from a sack of beardy explodey turbans"

            As has been demonstrated throughout history (Hue 1968, New York/Brandywine/Charleston/Camden 1770s) tactical wins aren't always what it takes...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward


              They're not doing what it takes, either.

          2. JEDIDIAH

            Some things never change.

            The US is not the first and won't be the last mighty military machine to have it's *ss handed to it by a bunch of beards in the mountains of Afghanistan. You could write the military history of the planet by detailing everyone that's had trouble with that terrain.

        2. fatchap


          The point is that pounding Afgan villages is not the tactic that is likely to work when fighting a counter insurgency battle.

          What you need is very accurate delivery of smallish payloads to take out targets that can not be destroyed by small arms or portable munitions. Hence Hellfires are currently the best we have.

    2. CurtisB


      -70 year old Lancaster - Max load 14,000lb (or a 22,000lb Grand Slam with modifications), up to 3000 miles with a minimal bomb load.

      -30 year old B-1 Lancer - Max load 125,000lb (using 75,000lb in bomb bays and 50,000lb on hardpoints), up to 7400 miles (but not with that load out!)

      -18 year old suicide bomber - max load 30lb (depends on how big he/she is), max range depends on his bus fare.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Suicide bombers.

        Max load 30lb?

        You've got some pretty feeble suicide bombers in mind.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Comparing apples and oranges...

    Comparing a drone with a small, tactical payload to a heavy strategic bomber for counter insurgency work is a bit like comparing an M1 tank to a Ford Fiesta for the Tesco run. Both will take you to the supermarket, but the Fiesta is a little more practical with the shopping bags and kiddies.

    The B-1 was designed in the 70's to attack the USSR in a strategic bombing role - one which it's done numerous times since (Iraq and Afghanistan certainly). As a COIN platform, it's only really useful as an (expensive) alternative to heavy artillery. Sure, it'll do it quite well, but it's a little over-kill when a drone will do it - so General P is quite right, in his context.

    However, the same drone will (at present) struggle to lug up to 67,000kg of death from above from half a world away like a B-1 can. As to the argument 'will this capability be needed again?', the question was asked after the first world war (and bombers were used in the next world war), during the 50's and 60's (Linebacker dented North Vietnam rather well), and in the 90's, at the end of the Cold War - when, of course B-1s and B-52 found useful employment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    There are few ways to rapidly strike an enemy from a long way away. ICBMs (and the sub equivalent) tend to get people a little over excited (nuclear megadeath tends to do that). A Carrier group takes months to move into place (though it does bring staying power), and strike aircraft (such as the Tornado) struggle to get that far with a useful load.

    Both platforms are great at what they're designed for, and General P is correct, The B-1 is 'almost' as good in the context he needs them to be. It was a little daft of the senator to put the General in that position.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Comparing apples and oranges...

      "Comparing a drone with a small, tactical payload to a heavy strategic bomber for counter insurgency work is a bit like comparing an M1 tank to a Ford Fiesta for the Tesco run. Both will take you to the supermarket, but the Fiesta is a little more practical with the shopping bags and kiddies."

      Yes, but the kiddies would probably enjoy a ride in the M1 a bit more. After all, who didn't ride with their head out of the sunroof at least once back in their childhood?

      1. Anonymous Coward

        re: Re: Comparing apples and oranges...

        "Yes, but the kiddies would probably enjoy a ride in the M-1 a bit more. After all, who didn't ride with their head out of the sunroof at least once back in their childhood?"

        After personally riding in both, if any of the Fiesta's I've ridden drove as smoothly as the M-1, I'd surely consider purchasing one.

        I'll conceed that the M-1 doesn't handle quite as well in a parking lot, like the Fiesta, but given the fact you can park anywhere or on anything you want to, who cares?

        And while I seriously doubt that a Fiesta's center of gravity wouldn't be altered by the 120mm smooth bore first use, I'd be willing to settle for a couple of bumper mounted coaxial controlled 50 cal's; which would be perfect for the rigors of day to day commuting!

    2. Anonymous Coward


      The heavy bombers were not necessary in Iraq (either time) or in Afghanistan. For the same money and hassle, I am sure every ground pounder would rather have had a pile more APCs, well trained troops and some mutha****ing spyplanes.

      There is simply no need for “death from above” anymore. It was great for clearing jungles in Vietnam, but today we have cruise missiles, hellfires and all sorts of other smart ordinance that can put a small payload where needed.

      What is needed isn’t a bigger bomb, or a bigger bomb delivery system. It’s some ****ing situational awareness.

      And choppers. There are never enough damn choppers.

      1. JEDIDIAH

        Right tool for the job.


        Heavy Bombers are great for destroying enemy armies that happen to be lined up nice and neat out in the dessert for you like they were trying to do a Civil War or World War I recreation.

        Every tool has it's place.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's vastly better than a UAV

    at airshows

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      An excitingly swoopy plane

      albeit only about half as pretty as the Valkyrie and a tenth as gorgeous as the TSR-2.

  8. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    Surgical has exactly the same meaning in warfare that it always has.

    = Give-or-take a leg, cover the result with tar, ignore the screaming

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    I'd question even the supersonic bit.

    Various people have looked at the B1 as the 1st stage for a space launcher, being a large supersonic aircraft with substantial payload.

    Except it isn't

    The B-1a *was* supersonic with a combination of variable geometry wings, inlets and outlets. After testing it turned out that anything slower than M3 flying at high altitude was a sitting duck (a thing worked out by the British after they had spunked a shed load of money over the V bomber force and discovered high altitude does not work very well *without* high speed and you need a tough airframe to handle the low altitude buffeting. It was a big influence on the TSR2 programme).

    The b model has (AFAIK) fixed (subsonic) inlets but retains the swing wings and variable geometry outlets.

    It can still carry enough bombs to obliterate any reasonably sized village in 'stan.

    1. Reg Sim

      You may well question the supersonic bit but...

      I suppose if your flying half way around the world to drop some bomes, it means you also need to fly back. Whilse I will grant you it may be a sitting duck at speeds sub Mach3, however usualy misions are time critical, in which case I susepct most of the world will not try to shoot you down if you are sub M3 at high altitude. So you can fly there fast, drop yer load and bugger off him in time for doc who (or what ever them yankys watch).

    2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      @John SMith 19

      Only problem with that is that if you obliterate a village, you create more new angry fighters with that act than you eliminated. Small surgical strikes, getting the RIGHT people at the RIGHT times is what’s critical. That relies on intelligence, not brute force.

      This isn’t a war for the big guns brigade. It’s a war for commandos, spies and special forces. You don’t want to burn down a village. You want to quietly “disappear” people in the night.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


        You appear to have mistaken my observation for approval.

        My awareness of the "Lessons learned" report of the 38 year deployment of the British Army in Norther Ireland (Operation "Banner" for those in the camouflage anoraks) was that *nothing* expanded recruiting to both Loyalist and Republican sides quite so much as internment without trial, backed up with the sporadic shooting of civilians (quite what would posses parents to leave little Shamus running round the back streets of a city with a toy rifle while it's being patrolled by groups of young, nervous, heavily armed soldiers I never understood)

        To be fair the RAF thought bombing villages was the way to control unruly fuzzy wuzzies in Iraq in the 1920s (authorized by a certain W. Churchill). Quick response, cost effective etc.

        It seems it's taking a while for planners to appreciate that something a *lot* more controlled and focused (and only *partly* military) is going to be needed

        BTW *noone* "won" in Norther Ireland. If someone *had* won then someone would feel they had lost. Both sides decided to stop fighting and put their weapons "beyond use."

        Mine would have a copy of "War games" in because this is "A most curious game, Professor Falcon."

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Trevor_Pott

          "To be fair the RAF thought bombing villages was the way to control unruly fuzzy wuzzies in Iraq in the 1920s"

          Were they on holiday in Iraq?

  10. the spectacularly refined chap

    Nice twist of logic there, Lewis...

    ...taking a long range strategic bomber - you know, a plane designed for _bombing_ - and comparing it unfavorably at surveillance to a battlefield toy designed specifically for surveillance.

    It is also completely at odds with your usual position whenever British kit is under consideration. That is, find some genuinely multirole equipment, selecting _one_ of those roles, and then complaining that some American gear does that one job slightly cheaper.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Point of order

      It wasn't Lewis that came up with that particular comparison. It was, in fact, the guy to be chief of operations in theatre, in reply to a (clearly, obviously, pork-barreling) senator guy. How refined is that?

      1. the spectacularly refined chap

        re: Point of order

        No. At the nomination hearing Petraeus was talking about the B1 and what it could do. It was only a side reference to the observational capabilities where he made a passing remark to UAVs. In context it was clear that the B1 was already up there and while it was there this was another peripheral duty it could perform

        Taking a half sentence snippet, turning it into a head to head comparison, and implying that was the only thing it was there doing in the first place (indeed, that it is the only thing it _could_ do) is something Lewis came up with all by himself.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          aw, shucks

          I see no such claim. I do see the claim that the ability of dropping large amounts of explosives isn't terribly useful in that theatre, and that therefore its deployment there isn't contributing as much bang for the buck as a cheaper platform (pun left unexploded).

          Now, you could quibble that due to "having to maintain capability" the forces have those $250M bombers *anyway* so might as well use them. I don't know about the operational costs to know whether that makes sense. Those numbers aren't mentioned making the report a bit disingenious, though no more than usual for reporters. But at least this claim comes with supporting logic, which you conveniently gloss over. That, I have to admit, is terribly refined of you.

  11. jason 7

    I think its considered.....

    ....politically safer these days to mistakenly kill 20 civilians with 200lbs of explosive than 200 with 20000lbs.

    Cheaper too, so more funds for reparations to the survivors.

    All a bit of a cock up isnt it. But then anyone with an IQ above 75 and no financial involvements with the arms trade knew that.

  12. Craig 28

    Re:Will it be needed?

    Good point there, we also had the same snafu before the falklands. We didn't see that one coming and had playmobil style carriers.

    It may be we have trouble with China or North Korea, it may come from elsewhere, but it seems sooner or later something always turns up much as I hate to admit it.

  13. disgruntled yank

    ah yes

    Lines from [Bless] 'em All, once quoted me by a former Marine officer,

    They called for the Air Force to come,

    Well, the Air Force arrived on the scene

    And bombed out two donkeys, three pigs and six monkeys

    And seven platoons of Marines.

  14. Il Midga di Macaroni

    The B-1 was designed when there were no drones

    When the B-1 was designed, unmanned aircraft technology was still the stuff of sci fi. It's almost guaranteed that a new generation of technology is going to bring cheaper and better systems. The guy is simply saying that the B-1 is not the right system for this theatre of war.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Aircraft like the B1 may may prove more useful in Iran, where one might anticipate meeting some air defences and huge amounts of ground penetration may be required.

  16. Cunningly Linguistic

    A simple methodology

    Step 1: Make friends with the Taliban

    Step 2: Bring in the Yanks

    Step 3: Let the Americans do what they do best... take out the Taliban with "friendly fire".

  17. Jesse Dorland
    Big Brother

    You'd thing our leaders would learn from history.

    Crusaders, and Knight try were killing, raping, and slaughtering people of middle-east "in the name of god", now samething expect calling it "fighting for freedom & democracy".

    As for fighting Iran, that would really be amusing, Iranian would be shut off gas pipeline, or destroy Ghwar by bombing it (world's largest oil province), and this would destroy the earth's atmosphere. Not to mention bring peak oil.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    USA and the actual/next war

    USA has a record of entering wars with the wrong weapons at hand. They entered WWII with the wrong figthers (P-35, P-39, P-40 and F4F were inadequate, it took time to have P-47. P-51, F4U and F6F ready), entered the Corean War with WWII fighters (and had to hasten F-86 deployment when faced with MiG-15), entered the Vietnam world with missile-only figthers (and had to retrofit them with cannons) and dreamed all the time about the perfect COIN plane (OV-10, anyone?) . All of that because some "generals" thought they can decide sitting at a table how the next war would be. Of course the B-1B is the wrong weapon for Afghanistan. But waht about if China decides, for example, it's time to put a stop to Taiwan "independency", or something alike? Are you going to fight it with Afghanistan-designed weapons? ICMB and even shorter range missiles are nice, but they can't be used against a moving target. An advice to the Pentagon: have your generals study your own war history.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    @Craig 28

    I agree, we were caught out in the Falklands and we were hugely unprepared for it because after the last two WWs, we all figured that its a different style of war coming next so we dont need conventional forces any more

    sound firmiliar?

    Intresting note on the Falklands relating to this article, the RAF spent a fortune getting a vulcan over there which did largely nothing except turn some dirt, if the same money and fual had been given to the Navy Harriers before and during their time there they could have been far more effective. (The Vulcan is a beautiful plane however and will make your hairs stand up on end seeing hearing, feeling one take off)

    So again, different platforms for different situations, but dont assume because they dont need them now means they wont need them in the future.

  20. James Woods

    military industrial government complex

    This is what you get when politicians campaign on bringing home the pork..

    Government cannot create jobs and it's politicians on both sides campaigning to do just that.

    The only way government can create a job is to steal one from another company that didn't pay it's donations to said politicians.

    Military will never get anywhere intangled in these types of business dealings where the decisions being made are focused around local politics and not strategy.

    This stuff has been going on for how many years now and we don't seem to be any farther along than when bush was president.

    I thought obama and the left was against the war(s). What happened to all that?

    I feel sorry for the mosques blown up, maybe if the muslims weren't at war with the world things like that wouldn't happen. Apparently to our media war is hell for only one side, the muslims are simply defending themselves.

    Let me close quoting irans 'president' regarding israel.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    temporary British General in Charge?

    I'm sure they'll live up to the reputation of their predecessors in the last three Afghan wars.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      we aint that bad

      Hmm, Times were very different then, we were not able to adapt to an unusual style of war that is why we and the Russans lost.

      But why would it be bad now, how many helecopters / planes have been shot down over there? to my knowledge none have been british, the Apachie Gun ships are doing an amazing job and they have my complete respect. Yes there are more americans over there but its the general attitude of the US to act like a bull in a china shop which helps create blue on blue and gets their helecopters shot down, we tend to be more reserved which im sure they dont like but a lot more of our boys an girls come home each year because of it.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Don't worry, Iran's robots will save the day

    Of course, Iran's robot is probably a photoshopped Honda Asino

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