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The Pentagon’s next bomber will protect itself against enemy aircraft and air- or ground-launched missiles with an electronic attack weapon, probably based on an active, electronically scanned array (AESA) that can produce effects at the speed of light around the battlespace.Moreover, that device or a supplemental AESA will also likely serve as a long-range, anti-electronic weapon and possibly as a network invasion weapon to disable or spook air defense surveillance, network integration and communications systems.Or the bomber could coordinate the use of these capabilities installed on supporting aircraft, unmanned systems or missiles.“The purpose of this aircraft is to survive in an Anti-Access Area Denial [A2AD] environment,” says Maj. Gen. David Scott, U.S. Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements. “ Part of the requirements will be self defense. Do I think AESA is a valid technology that the Air Force will look at on all offensive platforms? I do. Do I think that airborne electronic attack is a valid defensive system that we will need on all future A2AD platforms? You bet.” The bomber segment of the Long Range Strike family of systems has yet to be defined, much less designed, but clues are accumulating about what the U.S. Air Force is asking for.It needs less than a day’s endurance, it has to be stealthy, it must be able to carry weapons both internally and externally, it will likely have a large active electronically scanned array for radar surveillance and some sort of associated capability for defensive electronic attack of enemy aircraft and air- or ground-launched missiles.There will eventually be 80-100 of them as part of the total of 150 bombers operated by the U.S. Air Force. Of these, 90 will be combat coded. Initial operations of the first unit are slated for 2024-26. The aircraft will be expected to operate for about 50 years. It’s missions will include electronic attack (which means a long-range weapons capability against electronic systems) strike and command and control.Under the Long Range Strike (LRS) program, “You have a platform – the next bomber we’re going to build, a stand off missile that we’re working on right now and Conventional Prompt Global Strike that we’re still trying to figure out,” says Maj. Gen. David Scott, deputy chief of staff for operations, planning and requirements. “It includes the [Navy’s] conventional Trident missile and things that the Air Force is working very closely with such as the hypersonic test vehicle.A major component of LRS is “some kind of penetrating airborne electronic attack, persistent surveillance and reconnaissance and command and control that works all [those pieces] in an Anti-Access Area Denied [A2AD] environment,” Scott says. “What that gives those of us in the joint world is a national asset to hold any target in the world at risk.”A key part of the bomber's design – that also is expected to keep cost down – is an “open hardware architecture” that will let payloads be slipped in and out of the aircraft to tailor it for various missions.Moreover, “as technology enables it, we will work the maturity level of the bomber,” he says. “F-35 has some outstanding capability that we can leverage with this system [including AESA, electronic attack and infrared or electronic surveillance]. We will have trade space available to let us mature this aircraft because its going to be around for 50 years.The electronic attack and jamming capability being developed for the new bomber will not be the Navy’s Next Generation Jammer [NGJ], but it will be related to and compatible with it.“We are working with the Navy on NJG,” Scott says. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to employ it on our aircraft.”The services will work together to ensure the electro-magnetic spectrum is covered from the high to low ends. So far, the EC-130 Compass Call and some of the pods on the Predators operate in low-end conflict environments and counter-IED operations. The next generation pods will tackle the mid-level to contested regimes.“The F-22 and F-35 have AESA capability on board [that can be used for electronic attack],” he says. “The miniature air-launched decoy (Mald) and Mald-Jammer are the kind of things that we look at for the high-end [conflict].“We do some pretty neat [defensive electronic attack] things with the B-2, and we’ll try to improve that as we work it through [new] survivability issues,” Scott says. “We will work distributed electronic attack on this aircraft and Mald and Mald-J are prime examples of that. We’re [already] working through what increment two of Mald-J will be.”The bomber is supposed to use existing technologies so odds are that the aircraft will be subsonic. It also is supposed to be optionally manned.“Today we have remotely manned – Predator and Reaper – and autonomous – Global Hawk,” he says. “ We’re very good in the unmanned world. What we have to figure out is the concept of operations. This is not an aircraft that is going to be persistent for days. We would like it to persist like we currently do with other platforms. It’s going to go in, do the mission and come back out.”The Air Force bomber will be air-refuelable and there is the possibility that the Navy’s planned carrier-capable, unmanned strike aircraft will be as well.
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