Reading Secret USAF Bomber, ISR Plans
By Bill Sweetman Washington
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
December 03, 2012
Credit: Credit: USAF
Bill Sweetman Washington
An intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance unmanned air vehicle is one of the more obvious applications of stealth. ISR aircraft do not have to be agile or supersonic, two expensive complicating factors for stealth technology. Stealth is one of the few ways for UAVs, which mostly cannot detect threats reliably, let alone shoot back, to survive in denied or contested airspace
There is a double bonus if the mission can be accomplished undetected, since intelligence will be untainted by camouflage or deception. It is surprising that the U.S. has only known active stealth ISR UAV programs, one of them industry-funded.
Equally odd, given the importance of the Pacific theater and the stress being placed on a future long-range strike (LRS) family of systems, is the lack of visible activity surrounding the LRS-B bomber, the centerpiece of the group.
The solution to both puzzles lies in the black world. What follows is an account of developments in the black ISR and strike realms in the past decade, and how they relate to the trajectory of white-world programs. Most sources cannot be identified.
Stealth technology for aircraft mostly originated for the most part in the ISR world, including early and unsuccessful attempts to make the U-2 stealthy: the Lockheed and General Dynamics finalists in the competition that led to the Lockheed A-12 Blackbird and the AQM-91 Compass Arrow UAV. The second wave of stealth development in the 1970s included the Northrop Tacit Blue surveillance aircraft.
In 1983, with all attention on the Soviet Union, Lockheed and Boeing were selected to co-develop the Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System (AARS) and code-named Quartz, designed to loiter in Soviet airspace and track down mobile missile launchers. Vast, expensive and dogged by competing requirements from the CIA and National Reconnaissance Office, Quartz had not flown by the end of the Cold War and was canceled in 1992.