Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Air breathing platforms

Prior to Desert Storm, the USAF was moving away from air breathing platforms citing their high costs and the advancement in satellites. Desert Storm proved the continued need for surveillance assets that could be directed by the theater commander. Desert was much too short to keep the pressure off so air breathing platforms (the RF-4C for example) were retired with no follow on system.

Iraqi Freedom demanded air breathing platforms with longer duration that the Predator. Thus Global Hawk was born but again without thoroughly thinking through the needs of the theater level commander. Global Hawk is an amazing, but increasingly expensive, platform. Yet even in the 21st Century, commanders and analysts still rely on wet film imagery.

U-2 and Global Hawk: Le Bourget, France—For years, the Air Force has known it will give up some intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capability when it retires the U-2 fleet. The U-2 can carry heavier sensors than the RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft and has a still-in-demand wet film capability. Now USAF is involved in an analysis of alternatives to consider what sensors it wants on the Global Hawk going forward, said officials with Global Hawk prime contractor Northrop Grumman here Monday at the Paris Air Show. Ed Walby, company executive, said Air Force officials have told him that they expect to complete phase one of the AOA by the end of the summer. The Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft configuration is "full," said Walby; if USAF wants to change out sensors in a modular way, though, it should be able to, he said. "The reason for the Block 30 was to do what the U-2 can't," he added, noting that the RQ-4 can collect electronic intelligence and communications intelligence simultaneously, something the U-2 cannot. He acknowledged that "some of the U-2 sensors can see further than ours," but that this shortcoming is made up for by the Global Hawk's three-to-one advantage in loiter time. Moreover, some of the Global Hawk's sensors can be changed simply by modifying the software, he said.

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