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  • New Bomber Claims New Missions
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 9:16 PM on Dec 16, 2009

    Earlier in the year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the U.S. Air Force to re-think its bomber design for relevance across a wider spectrum of warfare, for new weaponry and for greater range.

    Early reports on those suggested changes indicates the new concept will be as much about surveillance and intelligence gathering as bombing.

    Moreover, the arsenal carried by this“long-range, ISR/Strike” aircraft may eventually include directed energy and network attack weapons, says Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, deputy chief of staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). Directed energy weapons devices under development by the Pentagon include a range of lasers and devices that produce pulses of high power microwaves. Other non-kinetic capabilities include the attack of enemy sensors with very precise, exotic-waveform jamming and the low-power, electronic invasion of networks that link tactical weapon systems such as advanced air defenses).

    The new bomber also will reflect experience gained in Afghanistan with operation of Lockheed Martin’s RQ-170 Sentinel (the Beast of Kandahar) unmanned, stealthy, surveillance aircraft. The Sentinel’s identification was first revealed here on Ares Dec. 5. That experience also will add currency to a much greater intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) content in the new design.

    “Clearly low observability is part of the [new ISR/Strike aircraft] equation,” Deptula says. “It also makes sense to put ‘find and fix’ sensors on the same platform that applies the effect. And not all those effects may be kinetic. Technology has pushed us beyond [the bomber] and fiscal constraints push us toward [multi-role]. The most important part of a future bomber is not to deliver bombs but to assimilate information rapidly and translate it into decisions.”

    A non-negotiable element in the formula is that operations and ISR will be tightly fused on a single platform.

    “To continue to talk about a segregation of intelligence and operations simply doesn’t make…sense,” Deptula says. Moreover, the U.S. has to be prepared for a spectrum of contingencies from the irregular warfare of Afghanistan to conventional conflict against the forces of developed nations.

    “We’ve had the luxury for the last 18 years of operating in SWA in a permissive air environment,” Deptula says. “We have to think about operating in contested and denied environments [and across] vast distances.”

    Those requirements demand a decision about whether such a platform should be manned or unmanned and penetrating or standoff.

    “I would tell you that a long-range, penetrating ISR/strike aircraft yields great advantages over any other kind of system,” Deptula says. “It’s about putting flexibility and the ability to introduce unambiguous statements [for the consideration] of our national leaders. When manned, it increases stability and capability by creating responsiveness to an infinite number options that you may not be able to deal with if it is unmanned.”

    Yet Deptula contends that there is a place for a design that can be either manned or unmanned.

    “Remote operations for a long-range ISR strike platform ought to [have] options for it to be both manned and remotely operated,” he says. “[If] the mission is simply collection of information in a non-hostile environment, remote operation is a way to go.”

    Tags: ar99, RQ-170, ISR, hpm

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