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  • Tales From The Crypt
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 3:33 PM on Feb 15, 2011

    The FY2012 budget and surrounding materials point to confirmation of what was first reported here back in 2008: that the USAF's development of a new bomber draws on major classified development programs in the area of large, extremely low observable (ELO) aircraft.  However, it might not have been quite the aircraft we thought it was.

    The USAF consistently refers to its new bomber as based on "proven technology" but there is no known basis of proof for its most important single feature: a degree of stealth high enough to assure survival in a heavily defended area, combined with affordability in manufacture and support. Since the USAF is now more or less openly referring to a classified precursor program, that is most likely its key feature.

    The classified segments of the budget are certainly large enough to support such a program. While in the old days you had to track down tell-tale line items and add the printed budget numbers, the Pentagon is now open about its secrets, with a "classified programs" line-item in the P-1 budget book.

    A rough estimate is that the Pentagon's classified programs and operations would count as the world's sixth-largest defense budget. Readily searchable line items in the budget add up to more than $57 billion, more than Germany's entire spending.

    Most of this appears in three line items:  Over $18.5 billion in USAF procurement, a single $17-billion plus line in the defense-wide operations and support budget, and almost $18 billion in research and development. Most of the R&D funding is in the USAF budget;  in fact, two-thirds of USAF R&D is classified.

    Adding up readily-identifiable secret line-items yields a USAF black budget of $33.1 billion in R&D, operations and procurement accounts. The USAF also states that its "non-blue" budget for fiscal 2012 - predominantly intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance - is $30.9 billion, leaving a clear $2.2-plus billion for non-ISR programs.

    However, it's likely that precursors to the bomber also reside in the ISR accounts - for example, that's where the RQ-170 Sentinel would be found. There remains a requirement, for example, for a large stealthy ISR UAV, described in the 2009 USAF UAV flight plan as MQ-La, to be available by 2020:

    "Filling urgent COCOM needs first, the MQ-La, with SAR/GMTI [and] advanced SIGINT capabilities, will complement the Global Hawk in multi-INT ISR missions."

    The advent of a system that could perform such a complementary role also goes some way to explain why the radar-carrying Block 40 Global Hawk has been cut back and some of its funding redirected to an electro-optical capability. It's quite possible - in the light of these developments - that the major Northrop Grumman activity observed starting in 2008 is actually an ISR program with relevance to a future bomber, rather than a bomber itself.

    Tags: ar99, budget, stealth, uav

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