Aviation Week | By David A. Fulghum | 21 December 2009
New ISR Project Planned For 2011
New clues are emerging about a follow-on to the now-discarded Next-Generation Bomber. Among them is the revelation that it will be as much about intelligence-gathering as bombing and that many of its weapons will produce effects other than explosions.
The arsenal of this “long-range, ISR/strike” aircraft eventually may include directed energy and network attack, says Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). Directed-energy weapons under development by the Pentagon include lasers and devices that produce pulses of high-power microwaves. Other nonkinetic features involve the ability to attack enemy sensors with precise, exotic-waveform jamming, and the low-power, electronic invasion of networks that link tactical weapon systems such as advanced air defenses.
The new bomber will reflect experience gained in Afghanistan with operation of Lockheed Martin’s RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned, stealthy, surveillance aircraft. That knowledge also will validate a much greater ISR content in the new design.
“Clearly, low observability is part of the [new ISR/strike aircraft] equation,” says Deptula. “It also makes sense to put ‘find and fix’ sensors on the same platform that applies the effect. And not all those effects may be kinetic. Technology has pushed us beyond [the bomber], and fiscal constraints push us toward [multi-role]. The most important part of a future bomber is not to deliver bombs but to assimilate information rapidly and translate it into decisions.”
Administration officials have been more vague and circumspect about the long-range strike aircraft’s capabilities, but not about its relatively high-profile consideration as a new start in the Pentagon’s Fiscal 2011 budget and five-year defense plan.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates derailed the previous bomber plan in Fiscal 2010 until it could be examined anew as an element of the Quadrennial Defense Review. The QDR is likely to state the need for both manned and unmanned, long-range capabilities.
“We are probably going to proceed with a long-range strike initiative coming out of the [QDR] and various other reviews going on,” Gates said during a visit to Iraq.
Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, seconded the notion that the service may begin funding two new programs—follow-ons to the Next-Generation Bomber (NGB) and the space-based surveillance satellite. In 2008, Lockheed Martin teamed with Boeing to compete against Northrop Grumman for the NGB. The programs could surface as part of the Pentagon’s Fiscal 2011 spending request going to Congress in February.
The possibility of new programs would brighten the picture for U.S. defense companies. New starts may offset analysts’ predictions that the Pentagon may delay development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by at least a year, push back production of about 100 aircraft and drive up the cost of each aircraft owing to delays (AW&ST Dec. 14, p. 32) Nonetheless, Gates says the U.S. services will “end up probably buying” 2,400-2,500 of the stealthy aircraft.
Despite the clues and candid discussion, the long-range, ISR/strike aircraft requirements are not completed and investments are still being prioritized. However, there is at least one non-negotiable element in the formula—operations and ISR will be tightly fused on that single platform.
“To continue to talk about a segregation of intelligence and operations simply doesn’t make sense,” says Deptula. Moreover, the U.S. has to be prepared for a spectrum of contingencies from the irregular warfare of Afghanistan to conventional conflict against the forces of developed nations.
“We’ve had the luxury for the last 18 years of operating in a permissive air environment,” he says. “We have to think about operating in contested and denied environments [and across] vast distances.”
Those issues will require determining whether such a platform should be manned or unmanned and penetrating or standoff.
“I would tell you that a long-range, penetrating ISR/strike aircraft yields great advantages over any other kind of system,” says Deptula. “It’s about putting flexibility and the ability to introduce unambiguous statements [for the consideration] of our national leaders. When manned, it increases stability and capability by creating responsiveness to an infinite number of options that you may not be able to deal with if it is unmanned.”
Yet Deptula contends there is a place for a design that can be both. “Remote operations for a long-range ISR strike platform ought to [have] options for it to be manned and remotely operated,” he says. “[If] the mission is simple collection of information in a nonhostile environment, remote operation is a way to go.”
The war in Afghanistan will continue to benefit from an ISR buildup. Aircraft such as the MC-12W will bring full-motion video and signals intelligence capabilities. Eventually, 24 aircraft will be in theater. The Reaper MQ-9 will carry the new Gorgon Stare ISR pod that initially offers up to 10 different video images to 10 users simultaneously. The capability will eventually yield 65 images with the Phase 3 pods.
The massive growth in communications will be handled by a processing, exploitation and dissemination structure that taps into thousands of analysts worldwide “at the speed of light,” says Deptula. Workloads can be shifted among ISR analysis centers in South Korea, Hawaii, California, Virginia and Germany.
Bandwidth needs are to be finessed by sending unprocessed signals to those on the ground who need immediate situational awareness. The Air Force is also looking at processing data on board aircraft so only limited information needs to be sent to analysts. Other initiatives involve compression of data and the Imaging Access System. IAS is a classified web site that makes available the latest information from many sources about any geographic location of interest.
Source: Aviation Week
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