Kelly Johnson’s Dragon Lady Soldiers On.

Invaluable from the time she was first bought into service as one of Kelly Johnson’s inspired creations, it seems she's been dodging the bullet of retirement for some years. The Air Force budget submission Feb 10th 2020 now plans to start retiring the Cold War-era Dragon Ladies in five years, projected spending $77 million on developing updates for the fleet from 2021-2024, but zeroes out research and development spending in 2025 when the Air Force plans to divest the U-2. Until that time, in order to meet mandated capability and capacity, the Air Force will continue to invest and modernise the U-2. The Air Force had forecasted the U-2’s retirement in 2019, but walked back the plan.

In 2013, the Air Force decided to keep the U-2 instead of retiring it, only to reverse the decision in 2015. 2015 calling for this in 2016. By 2016 the Air Force pushed back retirement to start in 2019 and finish in 2020. That changed in 2018 when it said it would keep the U-2 through 2022. In 2019 it decided to indefinitely retain the fleet.

With all this uncertainty, Congress told the Air Force in 2017 to keep both U-2 and the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a high-altitude ISR-collection drone until a better option comes along. Both are considered high-demand/low-density ISR capabilities essential for contributing to combatant commanders’ high-altitude ISR requirements, and both will remain in the Air Force inventory until a suitable replacement can be developed. It was decided not to cut the U-2 in favour of the Global Hawk because it needs both, a) because intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance needs are so pressing, and b) the two platforms complement each other.

The Air Force expects to own 31 U-2s in 2021, including four trainer aircraft. It will continue upgrading the Dragon Lady’s sensors, improve avionics, modernise communications and signals intelligence capabilities, and enable faster improved collection.

The 2021 budget proposes plans to cut USAF’s Global Hawk fleet from 31 airframes to 10 divesting four Block 20 RQ-4s and 20 Block 30 variants, and keeping the newest Block 40 drones. In 2021 begin divestiture of the Block 20/30 aircraft, focus on supporting the Block 40 fleet while closing out Block 30. To offset the Block 20 retirements purchase additional E-11s. Signals and imagery intel mission will continue to be accomplished by the U-2 as well as space-based capabilities.

The proposed follow on to the U2 was mooted in 2015. TR-X was to be a high-altitude aircraft designed to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for decades to come. Looking very much like the U-2 it would take advantage of the U2’s General Electric F118 engines and with a similar modular payload capability. Lockheed looked into increased power and cooling to accommodate new sensors, electronic warfare suites, and a more advanced communications system with the ability to communicate with both fourth and fifth-generation fighters.

It would use parts from U-2’s as well as from Global Hawk drones as they were retired and take ten years to develop. 80 percent of the hardware and 90 percent of the sensors, avionics, and other internal systems of the older planes would be recycled into the new plane. TR-X will also use the engine of the U-2S, which itself is a derivative of the engine used to power the B-2 stealth bomber.

The new budget proposals would seem to bear out these previous TR-X proposals. Growing tensions with Russia, China, N Korea, and Iran stretch already limited resources even further. The need for critical intelligence in these areas is essential, and while the upgraded U2’s and Global Hawks provide this, the need for increased capability and longer endurance grows. It is likely the TR-X will be pilot-optional, have an endurance that exceeds that of the present Global Hawks, and have some form of self defence as the Iran shoot-down of a Global Hawk highlighted.
 
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Invaluable from the time she was first bought into service as one of Kelly Johnson’s inspired creations, it seems she's been dodging the bullet of retirement for some years. The Air Force budget submission Feb 10th 2020 now plans to start retiring the Cold War-era Dragon Ladies in five years, projected spending $77 million on developing updates for the fleet from 2021-2024, but zeroes out research and development spending in 2025 when the Air Force plans to divest the U-2. Until that time, in order to meet mandated capability and capacity, the Air Force will continue to invest and modernise the U-2. The Air Force had forecasted the U-2’s retirement in 2019, but walked back the plan.

In 2013, the Air Force decided to keep the U-2 instead of retiring it, only to reverse the decision in 2015. 2015 calling for this in 2016. By 2016 the Air Force pushed back retirement to start in 2019 and finish in 2020. That changed in 2018 when it said it would keep the U-2 through 2022. In 2019 it decided to indefinitely retain the fleet.

With all this uncertainty, Congress told the Air Force in 2017 to keep both U-2 and the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a high-altitude ISR-collection drone until a better option comes along. Both are considered high-demand/low-density ISR capabilities essential for contributing to combatant commanders’ high-altitude ISR requirements and should remain in the Air Force inventory until a suitable replacement can be developed. It was decided not to cut the U-2 in favour of the Global Hawk because it needs both because intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance needs are so pressing, and the two platforms complement each other.

The Air Force expects to own 31 U-2s in 2021, including four trainer aircraft. It will continue upgrading the Dragon Lady’s sensors, improve avionics, modernise communications and signals intelligence capabilities, and enable faster improved collection.

The 2021 budget proposes plans to cut USAF’s Global Hawk fleet from 31 airframes to 10 divesting four Block 20 RQ-4s and 20 Block 30 variants and keeping the newest Block 40 drones. Beginning in 2021, to begin divestiture of the Block 20/30 aircraft, focus on supporting the Block 40 fleet while closing out Block 30. To offset the Block 20 retirements purchase additional E-11s. Signals and imagery intel mission will continue to be accomplished by the U-2 as well as space-based capabilities.

The proposed follow on to the U2 was mooted in 2015. TR-X was to be a high-altitude aircraft designed to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for decades to come. Looking very much like the U-2 it would take advantage of the U2’s General Electric F118 engines and with a similar modular payload capability. Lockheed looked into increased power and cooling to accommodate new sensors, electronic warfare suites, and a more advanced communications system with the ability to communicate with both fourth and fifth-generation fighters.

It would use parts from U-2’s as well as from Global Hawk drones as they were retired and take ten years to develop. 80 percent of the hardware and 90 percent of the sensors, avionics, and other internal systems of the older planes would be recycled into the new plane. TR-X will also use the engine of the U-2S, which itself is a derivative of the engine used to power the B-2 stealth bomber.

The new budget proposals would seem to bear out these previous TR-X proposals, growing tensions with Russia, China, N Korea, and Iran stretch already limited resources even further. The need for critical intelligence in these areas is essential and while the upgraded U2’s and Global Hawks provide this, the need for increased capability and longer endurance grows. It is likely the TR-X will be pilot-optional, have an endurance that exceeds that of the present Global Hawks, and have some form of self defence, as the Iran shoot-down of a Global Hawk highlighted.
Interesting. If a successor aircraft is to be manned, I wonder if the flight envelope can be widened? If they are using U2 parts plus the addition of GH sensors, it seems that flight envelope could get narrower, except perhaps for pilotless missions? Perhaps Global Hawk electronics can be reconfigured to handle that.
 

Chef

LE
Having binned the SR71 for political reasons as much as any other it seems to me the Americans don't really have much choice other than to keep improving the U2.
 
Interesting article from two years ago in Flight Global suggests nothing new was built but that hypersonic development was ongoing, with the emphasis on weapons systems, which might in time lead to a "reusable vehicle", which might have previously been referred to as something like SR-72.

SINGAPORE: Lockheed's Carvalho kiboshes SR-72 idea
By Greg Waldron8 February 2018

The head of Lockheed Martin’s aeronautics division has dismissed recent media reports that it has developed the SR-72, a successor to the iconic SR-71 Black Bird.
SINGAPORE: Lockheed's Carvalho kiboshes SR-72 idea

ETA Map and list of A-12 and SR-71 locations at various museums. SR-71 Online - Blackbird Locations
 
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Interesting article from two years ago in Flight Global suggests nothing new was built but that hypersonic development was ongoing, with the emphasis on weapons systems, which might in time lead to a "reusable vehicle", which might have previously been referred to as something like SR-72.

SINGAPORE: Lockheed's Carvalho kiboshes SR-72 idea
By Greg Waldron8 February 2018

The head of Lockheed Martin’s aeronautics division has dismissed recent media reports that it has developed the SR-72, a successor to the iconic SR-71 Black Bird.
SINGAPORE: Lockheed's Carvalho kiboshes SR-72 idea

ETA Map and list of A-12 and SR-71 locations at various museums. SR-71 Online - Blackbird Locations
Or then, there's always ...

 

P.O.N.T.I

War Hero
Photorecon.jpg


Meanwhile in the UK.....................
 
Meanwhile in the UK.....................
Sorry to disappoint but actually the UK provided the US with the genesis of the forerunner of the U2.

The Martin RB-57D Canberra was a specialised high-altitude strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the B-57 tactical bomber, a licence-built version of the English Electric Canberra, and used by the United States Air Force during the 50s prior to operational use of the U2.
 

P.O.N.T.I

War Hero
I know, for my sins, which many and varied, I have flown in one.
 

Chef

LE
View attachment 475595

Meanwhile in the UK.....................
No metal in that airyplane, very low radar reflection, very hi-tech. British made for British jobs! A bargain at £9 million per unit. (plus maintenance)

Signed Cyril Sturgeon MoD Procurement
 

Daxx

MIA
Book Reviewer
Surely these days it's easier and cheaper to hack into the target countries (insert internet enabled device here).
 
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