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  • 5th Gen Aircraft, Cyber and Electronic Attack Keeps Capitol Hill Interested
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 4:43 PM on Mar 17, 2011

    A string of defense-related congressional hearings this week has revealed a few bright spots including stealth upgrades and lots of software investment.

    F-22s are finally getting long-delayed upgrades. Raptors coming off the production line are wired for Increment 3.1 preplanned upgrades that add synthetic aperture radar ground mapping capability, self-targeting of precision bombs using on-board sensors and carriage of eight small diameter bombs (SDB), says Lt. Gen. Mark Shackleford, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisitions. The capability is being added this year and appears to be in the process of  upgrading F-22s that would be tapped to create any no-fly or no-drive zone in Libya.

    The response to changing threat assessments promise more improvements.

    Upgrade increment 3.2 is a software-only change to provide electronic protection, Link 16 communication and combat identification improvements. Increments 3.2B and C improves SBD employment, multi-ship, geolocation targeting, automatic ground collision avoidance system and enhanced Aim-120D and Aim-9X air-to-air missiles.

    There were troubling words from the Air Force about the F-35A. The inability to demonstrate the Joint Strike Fighter’s ability to conduct offensive counter air and suppression as well as the destruction of enemy air defense in heavily defended environments is going to delay the strike fighter’s operational debut by another two years.

    Last summer, the Air Force estimated that F-35's IOC would be declared in 2016. But when an analysis is complete later this year, “we currently expect up to a two-year delay” that will push establishment of the first operational unit into 2018, Shackleford says.

    For the Navy, its new EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft are operational and deploying in an expeditionary role which also would make them candidates for any Libyan conflict. These aircraft are replacing EA-6B Prowlers in the Navy’s four expeditionary electronic attack squadrons.

    An anticipated upgrade for the Growlers is the Next Generation Jammer which is to be an electronic attack pod that can be continually upgraded to meet the demands of advanced air defense radars and the need to exploit communications networks.

    Also in development are electronic warfare payloads that include software reprogrammable payloads for unmanned aircraft systems. Back to the bad news, “critical to the development of all these potential sensors is the development of an EW services architecture [that allows] cooperative and collaborative networked electronic warfare battle management,” says VADM Mark Skinner, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

    Congress also commented on China's role in Pentagon planning.

    China is annually increasing its defense budget by about 12% and its expanding economy will continue to support those investments, says Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness.  He identified a “voracious appetite for natural resources threatens adjoining nations [that] serves to destabilize regional order.” Beijing also is challenging U.S. advantages in the maritime, aviation, space and cyberspace venues.

    Continuing that dire message, the Pentagon’s top cyber warrior, Army Gen. Keith Alexander, told the HASC that he rated U.S. Cyber Command as average in its ability to protect the military’s thousands of networks. To improve, “We are working extremely hard on building the hardening part of our networks,” he says. Yet, some cyberthreats are being ignored because no one has told Cyber Command and the NSA to take on the task. For example, combating Islamic militant propaganda has fallen between the cracks. “We have not been given that mission,” Alexander says. “If we see this on U.S. infrastructure and it’s wrong, we can reach out through the FBI and ask that it be removed. We’re not reaching out … globally.” More importantly, neither Cyber Command nor NSA is  allowed to preemptively stop a cyberattack.

    Tags: ar99, F-35, F-22, NGJ, tacair, unmanned, cyber

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