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Stealthy Airlift for Commandos

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Another intriguing idea that emerged from this week's Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments talk comes from Bob Martinage who discussed the Special Operations Community's airlift shortfall.

You saw yesterday that we mentioned the debate over CV and MV-22 numbers and the potential replacements for a reduced buy of Ospreys for the spec ops community. But one thing I didn't write about was Martinage's call for a stealthy long-range transport for use by SOF to sneak larger numbers of personnel and equipment into shady LZs.

What Martinage proposes is to use the same airframe that the Air Force decides on for its new Next-Generation bomber program. Think of it as B-1 meets C-17.

If we want to gain access into a denied environment like China in the future, we've got to have a stealthy SOF transport. The C-130, even with all the tricks it can do for active defenses and so on, is not going to be survivable against the types of integrated air defenses that are available today, let alone 2015 or beyond. Whether it's for inserting ground forces into an anti-access area or denied environment against China, Iran or you name it -- or [for] truly clandestine operations in sensitive areas around the world, I need a stealthy transport. This will almost certainly need to be a variation of the Next Generation Bomber that the Air Force is building.

You might remember that our boy Steve Trimble at Flight Global pulled a diamond out of the rough when he spotted a line in NGB-contender Northrop Grumman's press release saying they thought delivering snake eaters to their drop zone in specialized cruise missiles fired from the NGB would be a swell idea.

That is, unless you're one of those commandos stuffed in metal tube at angels 1 traveling at 300 kts.

Anyway, though this sounds a bit "Starship Troopers" Martinage admits the Air Force has shown little enthusiasm for the less sexy (compared to the fighter jocks) world of covert ops.

It is imperative for AFSOC to field a stealthy SOF transport to provide clandestine mobility and support to SOF ground units in denied, semi-permissive and politically sensitive areas. It appears that the only feasible path ahead is to develop a SOF transport variant of the NGB. Without active support of the Air Force, both in terms of integrating fundamental performance parameters for SOF applications into the initial NGB design and willingness to procure additional airframes for SOCOM-funded modification, a stealthy SOF transport is unlikely to be realized.

That would kind of suck, huh?

-- Christian

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