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On the first day of the Libyan campaign, two B-2s were able to destroy “44 hardened aircraft shelters and took out almost the whole [of Tripoli’s] air force,” says a Strike Command official.They were able to fly well above Libya’s most modern air defense weapon, the Russian-made SA-24 which has an effective altitude of about 11,000 ft. However, most of Libya’s air defenses were quite old.After a two-year refurbishment of the U.S. Air Force’s nuclear capabilities, Global Strike Command is shifting focus to upgrading its conventional striking power.The effort is being driven by aging of the B-2’s stealth signature, introduction of advanced, electronically scanned radars into foreign-made air defenses and the Pentagon’s need to generate requirements for a new, $3.7 billion, long-range, stealthy, strike aircraft. Lt. Gen. James M. Kowalski, its commander, was in Washington this week making Congressional calls and speaking at a Congressional Seminar sponsored by the National Defense University.Global Strike Command maintains 16 B-2s and 44 B-52s plus an ICBM force for operational missions. Already, 12 B-2s have been upgraded with advanced, low-probability of intercept, radars and the ability to carry the massive ordnance penetrator (MOP) bomb for hardened, underground targets. Right now, the B-52 is the primary carrier of standoff weapons. It too is being modernized with advanced sensors, software, communications and an internal weapons bay upgrade that “increases the B-52 payload by two-thirds,” Kowalski says.However, new long-range, high-speed, air defense missiles, directed by advanced radars that increase the ability to detect stealth, are on the world market. They are already deploying as part of an asymmetric anti-access, denial of airspace strategy by a number of countries including China. U.S. planners are planning the next generation of tactics, weapons, aircraft and sensors to reestablish U.S. access during military operations.These include a “long-range-strike family of systems to provide a broad range of conventional and nuclear options,” Kowalski says.As the B-2’s signature is compromised by longer-range, higher resolution radars, it will have to rely on employing standoff weapons including a new, “survivable” cruise missile that can penetrate integrated air defense to replace the air-launched cruise missiles (ACLM ) by 2025. The current ALCM, with upgrades, is expected to serve through 2030, Kowalski says. Other components of an updated strike force may include participation in the Navy’s Next Generation Jammer program and the development of off-board sensors and advanced communications carried by stealthy, unmanned, adjunct aircraft designed to support the optionally-manned bombers.
ngb, Libya, B-2, stealth, ar99
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