A strategic bomber is a medium- to long-range aircraft that is designed to deliver large amounts of air-to-ground weaponry on distant targets in order to limit the enemy’s ability to wage war. Strategic bombers are designed to fly into enemy territory and destroy strategic targets such as major infrastructure, logistics establishments, military installations, factories, and cities, as opposed to tactical bombers, fighter-bombers, and attack aircraft, which are used in air interdiction operations to attack enemy combatants and military equipment.
Should India buy Strategic Bombers?
It has long been debated whether India should consider a long-term strategic bomber or not. The need for these has grown as there are multiple roles that multi-role aircraft such as the Rafale and Su-30MKI cannot perform.
However, given the state of Indian defence, where the IAF is unable to meet its basic requirement of combat aircraft, does having a “luxury” like strategic bombers make any sense?
Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, Rockwell B-1 Lancer, Xian H-6, and Tupolev Tu-95, Tu-22M, and Tu-160 are the modern active strategic bombers currently in service. Only three countries currently operate strategic bombers: The United States, Russia, and China. Several futuristic bombers, including the B-21 Raider from the United States, the Xian H-20 from China, and the Tu PAK-DA from Russia, are in development, with improved stealth and endurance.
Strategic bombers’ utility from an Indian perspective
A strategic bomber is similar to an aircraft carrier of the skies, providing a similar increase in firepower and physiological impact to an enemy’s navy. The Russian Tu-160 White Swan bomber, with a maximum range of 12,000 km, the ability to carry 45,000 kgs of weapon load, and the ability to travel at 2.05 Mach, is the most likely bomber that India will operate in the future (faster than multiple combat aircraft). Strategic bombers can perform multiple roles in general and can be even more efficient from an Indian standpoint, as we will discuss in detail.
Neutralizing enemy Air defence systems
We believe a quote from the distant past that “A bomber will always get through, no matter what defensive systems are used” is still true today because strategic bombers like the Tu160 and B-1 Lancer can carry long-range standoff weapons that can easily neutralize air defence systems as modern as they get.
If a Tu-160 is modified in the future to carry 10 air-launched BrahMos missiles with extended range, it can easily release this payload from a safer distance and wreak havoc on enemy SAM sites.
The Indian Ocean region
If strategic bombers are purchased, they will be most useful in the Indian Ocean region, according to Indian officials. Lt. Gen. David Deptula, USAF’s first Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, wrote in an air force magazine, “In a modern threat environment, particularly in the Asia Pacific region, the advantage of using bombers in a maritime strike role is becoming more relevant to future military strategies, plans, and budget priorities,” he added.
It should also be understood that once a naval warship’s weapon load was depleted, it would have to return to the coast to have them refilled, a process that could take days or even weeks depending on the distance from shores, while the warship itself remained a potential target for offensive assets.
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