This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.
The U.S. Air Force's ISR chief says a new bomber design will be more about intelligence gathering and non-kinetic weapons than about bombing.
The arsenal of this "long-range, ISR/Strike" aircraft may eventually include directed energy and network attack, says Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).
Directed energy weapons 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 unmanned, stealthy, surveillance aircraft. The Sentinel's identification was first revealed on Aviation Week's Ares blog (www.aviationweek.com/ares) Dec. 5. That experience also will add currency to a much greater 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.
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