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  • New Bomber In New Budget Still A Long-Shot
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 6:47 PM on Feb 11, 2011

    It appears that planning for an advanced long-range strike and reconnaissance aircraft will remain rudimentary for a while.

    Finding the necessary “funding needed to get to a meaningful down-select is still an open question,” says Paul Kaminski, former Pentagon acquisition chief and current chairman of the Defense Science Board. “That’s one of the things I’m looking for in the [new defense] budget. From what I know about the technology so far, I don’t see the supersonic requirement and capability in the early block.”   
     
    The U.S. Air Force is faced with rationalizing its investment in a new, long-range, bomber-reconnaissance aircraft while struggling under the burdens of tightening defense spending and a high-priority F-35 strike-fighter program that continues to drop behind schedule and add costs.  Moreover, there are an number of major uncertainties about the new bomber program. Will it be supersonic, optionally manned or hardened against nuclear-weapon-generated, electro-magnetic pulses?

    Kaminski is an advocate of breaking large, complicated programs into pieces -- block upgrades. That strategy allows an elemental version of a new aircraft – the F-117, for example – to fly earlier that with a monolithic program structure that demands everything be in place before an operational debut. The F-117 operated and finally retired without a radar that was initially considered imperative. The block upgrade strategy pays benefits in managing risk by letting immature technologies wait for a later block.

    “There also has to be confidence that there will be a block two so you can reserve judgment about what [technologies are] ready to be integrated,” Kaminski says. “If the requirements are generated by an operator that doesn’t have that confidence, the developers will try to put everything into block 1. [Instead,] you can look at different subsystem approaches and decide later, based on performance and maturity, the best way to the next block.”

    Kaminski identifies several important issues for the next bomber.

    “One has to do with open systems that have the capability to handle block upgrades,” he says. “You have to develop architectures with lots of flexibility. Something else that will help will be very aggressive red and blue teaming [looking for flaws and problem areas] and strategies for hedging and reacting to changes in the environment and the threat. You want diversity of systems so you need to think about families [of technology].”

    Another key will be leaving room for enhancements.

    “There may be some extensive useful things that can be done with an open hardware architecture to add, update or modify features,” Kaminski says. In building a stealthy aircraft, for example, “you would want to look seriously at the inclusion of hard points that would provide not only suitable structural properties to hold external stores – weapons, electronic warfare, surveillance devices – but recognize the [the need to avoid permanent] compromises in signature and to retain operational flexibility [when those less-stealthy components are removed].

    “Also, [these external payloads] may require some communications, power and cooling provisions,” he says. “Building those things in after the fact is sometimes pretty hard to do. Making provisions for them early on is important so that you can decide later on whether to add them when the operational advantages become clear.”

    Electronic hardening of the bomber for a nuclear mission is another problem for planners.

    “How can you test that hardening?” Kaminski asks. “We have lost some of the country’s testing capabilities. That’s something you need to think about in advance.”

    Tags: ar99, bomber, budget

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