Bomber-Attack Aircraft

Role: Bombers are used for carrying payloads (such as bombs, torpedoes, or air-to-surface missiles) for ground attacks. Bombers can be subcategorized into strategic bombers, tactical bombers, and interdictors. Strategic bombers are mid-to-long range heavy bombers used to deploy large amounts of ordnance. Typically, strategic bombers invade enemy territory to disrupt their future ability to wage war, attacking targets such as military bases, factories, roads, and cities. Strategic bombers are used for independent air campaigns (missions reliant solely on aerial forces).

Tactical bombers attack targets of immediate military value such as combatants or military installations. They also function as close air support (CAS), coordinating with ground troops’ operations in near proximity to hostile forces. Interdictors engage in deep air support (DAS) aiding larger ground operations, but without ground troops close by. Interdiction bombers attack the logistical targets of enemy forces (such as supply lines and roads). Air interdiction can be both strategic (related to the overarching military goal) and tactical (limited to a specific combat arena). Attack aircraft are also used to dispense bombs or munitions over a ground target but are more tactical and have more defenses when in low-level altitude. Attack aircraft are typically used in close air support or in air-to-surface launches. The dedicated role of bombers and attack aircraft are being increasingly replaced by strike fighters – multi-role fighters equipped with load-deployment capabilities.

The development of precision-guided munitions has replaced the previous “dumb bombs” that dominated bombers and attack aircraft during World War II. During the war, bombers were used to carry out a “carpet bombing” strategy – total saturation of a large area with bombs. For such a strategy, precision is unnecessary. The United States entered a new age of accuracy during the Cold War with the emergence of “smart bombs” or guided systems that can steer itself or be externally guided onto a specific target. As military strategy shifted from the total war of WWII towards smaller, proxy wars or minor skirmishes, a more limited type of firepower was required. Guidance systems are based on radio, infrared, laser, and satellite. Satellite uses GPS to locate and hone in on a target. This type of guidance is the most accurate in non-ideal weather conditions but still depends on the accuracy of intelligence-provided coordinates. Developments in precision weaponry have been hailed as reducing the amount of collateral damage and causing more efficient destruction - using less bombs, more accurately.

Models in Service:

United States Air Force (USAF)

Name Branch Variants Quantity Manufacturer Notes/Capabilities in Brief
B-1 Lancer USAF B-1B 66 Boeing Originally developed as part of a ‘flexible response’ strategy during the Cold War, the B-1 was built with a massive payload capacity specifically for nuclear armaments. Seeking alternatives to total nuclear war, the military developed a triad of strategic forces (ICBMs, SLBMs, and bombers) which would allow a more versatile range of responses. Fitted with six external pylons which can hold 50,000 pounds of ordnance and three internal bomb bays which can hold 75,000 pounds of ordnance, the B-1B is primarily a long-range, low-level penetration bomber. Converted after the war to support conventional weaponry, the Lancer is also currently being upgraded with the latest electronics including: a fully integrated data link (FIDL, an Ethernet-based networking system), a vertical situation display upgrade (VSDU, situational awareness enhancing technology), and a central integrated system (CITS, displays to monitor system failures).
B-2 Spirit USAF B-2A 20 Northrop Grumman The product of 1970s programs Experimental Survivable Tactical (XST) developing stealth technology and the Advanced Technology Bomber, the B-2 is the only U.S. aircraft that combines the long-range and large payload of bombers with stealth characteristics. At a production cost of $3 billion per aircraft, the Sprit is one of the most expensive aircraft in the military. The B-2 is batwing-shaped and curved to diminish its acoustic, electromagnetic, and visual tracks and deflect radar beams and made of radar-absorbent (RA) carbon-graphite composite material coated with RA alternate high-frequency material (AHFM). Additionally, with engines and exhaust systems hidden inside the body of the plane, the Spirit avoids infrared heat detection. The production of the B-2 has been subjected to multiple espionage attempts and further details of its stealth technology remains classified.
B-52 Stratofortress USAF B-52H 76 Boeing The Stratofortress serves as a long-range, high-altitude heavy bomber. The first of its kind in the military’s artillery, the B-52 began as a Cold War nuclear bomber. As the country shifted away from a doctrine of nuclear mutually-assured destruction (MAD), the B-52 was adapted for other operations. Now a low-level conventional bomber, the Stratofortress is compatible with the broadest array of weapons. The B-52H can deliver up to 20 cruise-missiles and 70,000 pounds of ordnance on internal and external hardpoints. In 2014, the aircraft was overhauled for a long overdue avionics upgrade through the Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT) program and fitted with, among other upgrades, new multi-functional color displays (MFCDs) and data links.
A-10 Thunderbolt II USAF A-10C 343 Fairchild Republic Dubbed the Warthog, the A-10’s specialty is in low-flying, close air support (CAS) and strike-coordinated armed reconnaissance (SCAR) operations. Designed to attack ground targets such as tanks, armory, and other installations without anti-air defenses, the A-10 can carry six Maverick AGM-65/B/D/G/H/K air-to-surface missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The A-10 is also particularly equipped to handle immersion within hostile ground environments (such as closely confronting man-portable air-defense systems or MANPADS). The A-10 features a number of distinct ruggedizing features that make it ideal for combat distress including: heavy armor on the airframe (1200 pound titanium), a honeycomb material structure on the wings and tail (making them both light and strong and highly survivable), and larger than average wing ailerons (increasing maneuverability). The Warthog is also extraordinarily resilient. Able to fly with one engine, one tail, one elevator, and half a wing missing, this redundancy greatly increases the aircraft’s survivability and utility in contested zones.
AC-130 Spectre USAF
  • AC-130H
  • AC-130U
  • AC-130W
  • 8
  • 17
  • 12
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Boeing
The AC-130 is a heavily armed gunship based on the C-130 transport plane designed primarily for close air support. Used mainly in night operations, the Spectre makes up for its poor maneuverability and limited position placements with a powerful array of weaponry including: a 25 mm GAU-12 Equalizer Gatling gun (firing 1800 rounds per minute), a Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft autocannon, and a 105 mm M102 Howitzer with 33 pound shells. The newest version AC-130W is fitted with a Precision Strike Package (PSP) to add more precise attack capabilities and fires guided munitions such as the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb and the AGM-114 Hellfire missile.

Current Events:

USAF has recently issued (July 2014) a request for proposals for a new long range strike-bomber (LRS-B). Requisite specifications include all-aspect/broadband stealth, nuclear capability, and manned-optional flight. The Air Force has not yet released detailed program information but has stated that up to they will order up to 100 units with a procurement cap of approximately $550 million per unit.

The A-10 Thunderbolt was narrowly spared from being included in the 2014 defense cuts decided by the U.S. Congress’s House Armed Forces Committee. Advocates of keeping the A-10 argue that grounding the Thunderbolts would leave a capability gap in the area of CAS and that no other aircraft has the flexibility and accuracy for low-flying operations. Detractors believe that the A-10 is too outdated and vulnerable to anti-air defenses to be useful. The war plane is currently being used in the 2014 air strikes against the Islamic State.

A single surplus A-10 is currently being modified by The National Science Foundation for weather reconnaissance with a budget of $13 million. Missions will include deploying sensors into the eyes of tornadoes and monitoring other extreme weather conditions.

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