U2 eye-in-the-sky spy plane wins new lease of life in Afghan

#1
From The Times
March 24, 2010
U2 eye-in-the-sky spy plane wins new lease of life in Afghanistan

Michael Evans, Pentagon Correspondent
38 COMMENTS
RECOMMEND? (15)
The U2 spy aircraft, famed for high-altitude Cold War espionage missions over the Soviet Union, is enjoying a new lease of life in Afghanistan as the best spotter of Taleban roadside bombs in the allies’ arsenal.

Four years ago the Pentagon wanted to retire the aircraft, which took its first test flight more than half a century ago. Since being fitted with new sensors and communications equipment, however, it has become an indispensable eye-in-the-sky for Nato forces.

From its 70,000ft (21,000m) cruising altitude its high-resolution camera is capable of spotting slight changes in the country’s dry mud paths where the Taleban often bury improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

US military officials said that in the lead-up to the recent operation to seize Marjah in central Helmand from the Taleban, a U2 — nicknamed Dragon Lady because of its long wingspan — spotted almost 150 suspected bombs dug into roads and at planned helicopter landing sites around the town.
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http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article7073232.ece
 
#2
Very interesting read about a remarkable aircraft. It just proves there is nothing like the Mk I eyeball even when given technological assistance!
 
#4
I recall seeing this beauty at Akrotiri in 1976. They used to wheel the pilot out in a space suit lying on his back in the back of an old VW campervan. All that hi tech stuff and this really beat up old VW van. I stood a couple of times under the flightpath at the start of the runway as it came in to land. Awesome sight. The Army years ago used a similar system in Northern Ireland. It was the mk1 eyeball. There was a guy who could look at arial photos and point out where he thought there were arms dumps. He had a fairly good success rate being right more often than wrong. I hope this really does have a huge impact in finding ied's before they find our lad's.
 

maguire

LE
Book Reviewer
#5
would it not make more sense to stick the camera in a UAV? cheaper to operate and your time on station then isnt limited by the pilots endurance.
 
#6
UAS have their advantages such as endurance, lower visual and audio signature and the fact you don’t (necessarily) require defensive aids.

However, when compared to an RQ-4 Global Hawk, the U-2 has a greater payload, more payload options, greater resilience against weather factors, it can be flown in all types of airspace, enjoys a lower attrition rate, lower J6 requirements, lower manpower requirements and the link between the pilot and aircraft does not need to be deconflicted from friendly or commercial frequencies nor is it vulnerable to hostile jamming. All for a lower cost.

I could use the same comparison between Watchkeeper and a Cessna Grand Caravan (plus the fact the Cessna can be employed for other tasks such as light utility).

Unmanned is not a panacea.

Questions, points and comments?

Regards,
MM
 
#7
Hello MM, haven't seen you around for a while, glad to see you back safe

Agree that unmanned systems aren't the panacea but like any relatively new technology their full potential has yet to be realised. One thing that puzzles me about this is that the Global Hawk was widely touted as being responsible for the overwhelming vast majority of imagery prior to Iraq yet they would have had the U2 available, what makes one choose a system that is less mature and as you say, less flexible.

I have to agree that over £800 million for Watchkeeper is rather a steep price to pay for what could be delivered by DA42's, R1's or even something low (ish) end like a Caravan, Sama or even one of those funky little Seekers
 
#9
If it works, why fix it?

If this aircraft is still useful X years later, then maybe they should be designing a more up to date version, else...
 
#11
leveller said:
One thing that puzzles me about this is that the Global Hawk was widely touted as being responsible for the overwhelming vast majority of imagery prior to Iraq yet they would have had the U2 available, what makes one choose a system that is less mature and as you say, less flexible.
Politics. There is an enormous tug of war going on in the Senate, Congress and USAF hierarchy over those who push the RQ-4 (and are immensely annoyed the U-2 just won't roll over and die) and those who advocate the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' Dragon Lady.

leveller said:
Its replacement isn't ready yet?

No. The RQ-4 is slated to replace the U-2S in the high altitude, stand off role. A quick look at the RQ-170 suggests it is a very different beast designed for medium altitude penetration missions, most likely using some of the U-2/RQ-4 sensors but also I suspect (despite the RQ designation) having a limited strike and Electronic Attack role.

Regards,
MM
 
#12
Magic_Mushroom said:
leveller said:
Its replacement isn't ready yet?

No. The RQ-4 is slated to replace the U-2S in the high altitude, stand off role. A quick look at the RQ-170 suggests it is a very different beast designed for medium altitude penetration missions, most likely using some of the U-2/RQ-4 sensors but also I suspect (despite the RQ designation) having a limited strike and Electronic Attack role.

Regards,
MM
Know all, but that's why I asked :D
 
#13
While we're on the subject, it's an enormous shame we had to retire the Canberra PR9.

Now that's a production line I'd have like to have seen re-opened!
 
#14
Would it be wrong to mention the (sadly now gone) Canberra PR9?
 
#16
Magic_Mushroom said:
While we're on the subject, it's an enormous shame we had to retire the Canberra PR9.

Now that's a production line I'd have like to have seen re-opened!
Now you're getting maudlin and reminiscent, put the drink down!

So why aren't we buying a global hawk?
 
#17
leveller said:
So why aren't we buying a global hawk?
Too expensive by far and to be honest, our Reapers can probably do 80% of what a GH can do at about 60% of the cost. In fact, Reaper can do plenty an RQ-4 can't as well. We also have Sentinel for wide area SAR/GMTI.

However, you're right. Talk of the PR9 is making me misty eyed...I'm off to bed!

Night night!

Regards,
MM
 
#20
JoeCivvie said:
Wasn't the U2 based on the Canberra airframe?[/quote

NO, that was the Martin/General Dynamics B57, I think that the NASA still have a couple flying for high Alt research
 

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