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  • A New Bomber and What Else?
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 7:32 PM on Jan 07, 2011

    Washington has a single-minded focus on the unit cost of military projects instead of examining the warfighting and intelligence-gathering advantages that advanced systems provide.

    Compounding the problem is a Pentagon predilection for a doctrinaire approach to labeling roles and missions. For example, the military industries expected to grow during the next decade will be cyber, electronic warfare and ISR technology. That is expected to be a boon for the only three new combat aircraft programs that have a chance of emerging in the next decade or so.

    The most encouraging prospects are for a next-generation Air Force bomber, a Navy unmanned strike fighter and an unmanned, stealthy, fighter-sized-or-smaller surveillance aircraft that can fly into the heart of enemy air defenses and survive there for extended periods.

    “Where we’re hurting is the lack of ability to operate in denied airspace,” says Lt. Gen. (ret.) Dave Deptula, former head of Air Force intelligence. “That’s where the focus needs to be in the next set of aircraft that we build. We also have to be careful not to allow traditional approaches to cost that drive us to make sub-optimized decisions on aircraft.”

    He faults a single-minded focus on unit cost instead of looking at the intelligence-gathering and warfighting advantages provided by these advanced systems.

    “We have to take a look at the values provided by these systems,” Deptula says. “We should capitalize on technologies that allow us to concentrate these capabilities on a single platform. That provides increased value and survivability for a fraction of the cost of a system of systems where you segregate the capabilities on a variety of aircraft.”

    There may be a temptation to combine the bomber with the unmanned, penetrating ISR platform, but Deptula questions the wisdom of such an endeavor.

    “The potential melding of the two may overlook the value and virtue of having both,” he says. “You have many advantages with a remotely piloted aircraft to conduct ISR in denied and contested airspace. You don’t want to expose the crew [to high power microwaves, for example] and there is also the issue of persistence. [Moreover,] why would you build that aircraft without a strike capability of some sort that is integral to the aircraft?  I am an advocate of modularity and the ability to achieve a variety of roles by physically changing the characteristics of the aircraft. It could be sensor-heavy one day and perhaps include weapons the next by changing modules.”

    Tags: ar99, EW, Cyber

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