Key point: The problem remains that large, supersonic aircraft are expensive to operate.
The highest-stake geopolitical clash taking place today is for control of the waters of the Asia-Pacific. Will China assert de facto dominion over large expanses of those waters thanks to its growing military power, and thus be positioned to dictate terms to states like Japan, Vietnam, and Australia? Or will the United States and its regional allies maintain a credible countervailing presence?
In that context, the once-moribund strategic bomber—formerly seeming a vestige of the Cold War nuclear strategy—has reemerged to prominence. That’s because the distances stretching across the Pacific demand large aircraft with the range to match. And one of their chief roles will be one of the heavy bomber’s oldest: sinking enemy ships.
Even in the earliest days of military airpower, large land-based bombers were seen as potent anti-ship platforms. In 1921, airpower advocate Billy Mitchell arranged a demonstration in which Army Air Corps bomber attacked the German World War I battleship Ostfriesenland, which had been ceded to the United States as a war reparation.
The first four waves of bombers that attacked on July 20 failed to dent the vessel’s top armor, but near misses caused flooding in her hull compartments. Then the fifth and sixth wave on the morning of July 21 employing heavy 1,000- and 2,000-pound bombs burst open a hole that accelerated the flooding, causing the battleship to sink by noon. You can see footage of the attack here.