Ever since the first bombs were placed on small fighter aircraft, the term “fighter-bomber” was formed. Far less common is the term “bomber-fighter”, which makes the actual examples-those both proposed and actually built, all the more interesting.

The most numerous bomber-fighters were light/medium bombers turned into niche fighters. The Ju-88 served the World War II Luftwaffe in all roles, the Mosquito was a similarly advanced example on the Western Allied side, and there were less common examples like the Soviet Pe-3. Postwar, this trend continued with the Soviet Yak-28, starting off as a bomber but developed into an interceptor. There were misses as well as hits, like the ill-fated F-111B.

However, what I find the most radical and interesting have been the proposals to adapt unquestionably heavy bombers into air-to-air capable fighters. Perhaps the most famous proposal of this nature has been the B-1R upgrade. The 1980s-vintage B-1B bomber would gain advanced radars, F-22 engines, payload capability changes-and the ability to fire air to air missiles.

A lesser-known proposal was the Soviet Tu-161, to equip the massive strategic missile carrier with a radar and long-range air to air missiles. This would have been a worthy heir to the same design bureau’s Tu-128, a bomber-sized interceptor that remains one of my favorite obscure aircraft.

Neither was built or seriously considered. The Tu-161 was a luxury that was dubious for the economically reeling USSR even if it had remained intact, and the B-1R, while more technically plausible, runs into the problem of “too many eggs in one basket.” The multirole B-1R was intended as a bomber with some self-defense capability-but why not keep it a bomber with F-22s and/or F-15s to escort it? Why not replace the Tu-161 with multiple MiG-31s? Why put all that into one less maneuverable, expensive bomber type aircraft?

Even a “missile-truck” fighter like the CSBA’s future proposal, F-14, or-Tu-128 for that matter, is different from a bomber. Especially if the missileer is one intended to be stealthily, and all the RCS reductions would not make the B-1 into a true stealth aircraft.
Yet the novelty of the bomber-fighter concept makes it entertaining to think about.


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