Wednesday, November 29, 2006
The USAF's B-2 fleet is not getting any younger, equipped with 1980's analog electronics, ancient radar and limited bandwidth comm systems, and to that end, David Mazur, Northrop Grumman’s VP of LRS initiatives, has proposed upgrades to the B-2 to keep moss from growing on it's north side.
Electronics upgrades proposed call for the B-2's older electronics systems to be replaced with a radar similar to the Raptor's APG-77 and a comm upgrade to Link 16 which will enable the B-2s to share data with other planes, ground stations, vehicles or ships as well as enabling extremely high frequency satellite communications.
Stealth upgrades include replacing the old RAM coatings with newer “Alternative high frequency materials” which require far less maintenance and will eliminate the need for radar-absorbing tape that currently covers access panels and fasteners on the B-2’s wings. Using “Alternative high frequency materials” will also eliminate the required 36+ hours for application and curing the stealth coating in use now.
Weapons upgrades consists the ability to carry and deliver 80 independently-targeted 500-pound smart bombs. Currently, each B-2 can only accommodate 16 smart bombs.Another upgrade will enable the B-2 to carry two 30,000-pound conventional bunker buster bombs, able to punch through over 60 feet of reinforced concrete.Small diameter bombs with the ability to glide 60 miles to target as well as long range A2A systems are also planned.
I guess it remains to be seen if the US congress has the stomach to pay for these upgrades, but if the plane is to remain flying it would be nice to update it's electronics and other capabilities.
Source: "USAF, Northrop Have 40-Year Plan for B-2"; Defense News.Com - November 29, 2006
Monday, November 20, 2006I will not be posting until the week after Thanksgiving.
Thank you for coming by and I hope you come again!
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Here's a little something that has me intrigued. It's the beginning stages of a next generation UAV.
Introducing the Sonic Blue Fusion:
Fusion is designated as an Unmanned Combat Hybrd Armed Vehicle (UCHAV) currently entertaining proposals for funding by the DOD and the Air Force in 2007. The Fusion is considered the first fully integrated deep strike supersonic VTOL UAV with integrated solid state laser weapon technology and the ability to take off and land on unprepared surfaces, ship helipads or the back of an army truck.
Sonic Blue has plans to show off a halfscale "Fusion" at the Unmanned Vehicle Systems International 2007 Convention in June 2007. A flying full scale advanced tech demonstrator in underway and could fly as early as July 2009. The Fusion weighs in at 12,000 lbs and under fully autonomous flight and operations should have a range of 750 miles initially, and the ability to fly at supersonic speeds.
The aircraft itself is a triangular shape, stealthy due to both shape and coatings, with lift fans for vertical lift that can close rotating like camera shutters to help with Mach + aerodynamics. The craft also touts vectored thrust to provide additional lift when taking off or landing in vertical fashion.
Word is payload can be either ISR, conventional weapons, ie: missiles and small diameter bombs or a solid state laser.We know from disussions on the F-35 potentially getting a solid state laser as the cooling issues are remedied, that an engine such as the F-135 and F-136 can easily generate over 27,000 horsepower to power lasers and electric fans without disturbing the overall performance of the aircraft by much.
Apparently the engine is a Rolls Royce JSF F-136, 40,000+ lb thrust turbofan to be redesigned with electomagnetic polar opposites keeping certain parts from contacting other parts in the aircraft thus eliminating wear and tear on parts as well as solving cooling issues due to friction. The company fully anticipates licensing and/or distributing the HILAPS (hybrid, integrated, lift and propulsion system) turbofan to other aircraft companies.
The company plans to develop the HILAPS engine into a integrated dual cycle combustion powerplant, designed to provide a single vehicle the ability to do a single-stage, horizontal takeoff to low earth orbit flight with a military only cruising speed of Mach 12.
Will it Happen?
In this wacky world of defense aerospace there are so many variables, some political in nature, others in corporate competition and still other variables including the finances to do the research.I beielve a worst case scenario for the Sonic Blue effort will be the development of an oiless jet turbine that rotates free of friction thanks to electromagnetic polar opposites being manipulated within the engine itself. Marketing of such an engine, what with the savings in maintnenance and operational weight could bode well for the young company whether the Fusion actually takes off or not.
Professional History of Team:
Although little is known about aerospace startup Sonic Blue headquartered in Portland, Maine, it's team includes illustrious names in aerospace research like, Richard Lugg, CEO who was co-program manager on the NASA X-33 Reusable Launch Vehicle as well as the NASA X-43 hypersonic research vehicle that attained a speed of Mach 10. Some of Richard's other credentials include assistant Technology Director on the Lockheed JASSM cruise missile prototype, developing 3D advanced composite upgrades for the Eurofighter Typhoon as well as having been a member of the Rocketdyne/Boeing hypersonic scamjet engine design build team.
Also on the Sonic Blue team is Dr. Paul Lagace, the Chief Technical Advisor for Sonic Blue's programs. His credentials include being the Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He serves as Director of the Technology Laboratory for Advanced Composites which is closely linked to among other government entities, the FAA.
Another team member is Dr. Kassakian, Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT and Director of the MIT Laboratory for Electrmagnetic and Electronic Systems. Considered an expert in power electronics and electromagnetic systems, he will no doubt have some resposibility in developing the HILAPS.
Industry Partners Lend Resources and Validity to Sonic Blue's Efforts:
Perhaps the most crucial to Sonic Blue's success will be their partnership with Rolls Royce of North America. RR is also a partner on the JSF as well as the alternative gas turbine F-136 for the F-35. Rolls has thus far provided critical preliminary design and engineering support.
Other industry supporting roles:
SatCon a cutting edge company leading the way on high density electric motors and and generator technologies. Bihrle Applied Research who provides aerodynamic design and flight sim software. Avid LLC has provided lift fan design.QinetiQ for the STOVL automated control software and hardware modules.
At any rate, the Fusion's team is quickly becoming very familiar with NASA's Langley Research Center and best of luck to them in their endeavor!
Anyone have any comments on this one?
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Australia's Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and the United States Air Force have signed an agreement to advance research into hypersonic (Mach 5 or higher) flight.
The program is scheduled to last for 8 yrs and the combination of projects under this effort makes for one of the largest collaborative ventures to ever be undertaken between the two nations.
Programs that will benefit from this collaborative effort are DARPA's FALCON, which is hoped to provide lower-cost satellite launches and an obvious lead-up to various military spaceplane projects.
Other hypersonic programs to benefit are the RATTLRS project and the Aussie HyFly project.
It sounds like the US and Australia have shifted hypersonic strike research into high gear.
"AUSTRALIAN-US COLLABORATION ON HYPERSONICS RESEARCH"; Australian Defense Ministry Media Release, Nov 10, 2006
Thursday, November 09, 2006The Predator B is now slated to be armed with the new 250 lb Small Diameter Bomb. This bomb is GPS guided and generally hits within 1.5 meters of it's intended target. Also, the SDB is reported to have a 60 mile stand-off glide range thanks to a set of diamond shaped wings that deploy from the bomb's sides after it's release.
The timeframe for the Predator's new armament will be 2009 or just after all 217 F-15E Strike Eagle's are fitted to carry the SDB. As a comparison, the F-22 will be able to carry 8 SDB's and the B-2 will carry 64.
C4ISR Journal, Nov/Dec 2006 issue, pg 15 Every other blog has something to say about this so I suppose I will too.
Bush screwed the pooch by not canning Rummy at a strategic point prior to the mid-term elections. For this mistake he cost the Republicans both houses of Congress.
Why do I care? Am I an evil torture-lovin' Neo-Con or an America-hating Progressive?
No, I care because the Republicans buy defense products keeping my job secure, the Democrats? I'm not so sure about in that category.
But I digress - back to Rummy.
Good riddance! The policy on Iraq was not working. The men on the ground said it wasn't, the General's said it wasn't... and Rummy just kept on the same course. We needed a fresh policy on this 2 years ago. Even if it was just a percieved difference - Rummy was a liability.
I welcome Gates and hope he has something better for the troops on the ground. I also hope he does not abandon high end acquisitions thinking as the democrats do that defense acquisitions should only be for fighting a war of incursion. If that happens we will certainly be unprepared and lose many more lives the next time we have to take on a country rather than some nomadic group of terrorists.
That is all.
Saturday, November 04, 2006On October 29th a "Silver Stealth" ceremony was held at Holloman AFB in New Mexico, commemorating the 25th year that the F-117 Nighthawk had been in service. The ceremony was bittersweet in that it also marked the beginning of the retirement of the legendary stealth "fighter".
Over the next 2 years the 52 F-117's at Holloman will be phased out and replaced by F-22 Raptors.
So what is to become of the F-117's?
Will they be the prime attraction at museums?
Will they be used for target practice for anti-stealth air defense weapons?
Will they be buried somewhere in the desert, taking with them artifacts that are still top secret to this day?
While some may make it to museums, there has been much talk around the the USAF of making drones out of them, that's right - UCAVs. In fact an article in the April 2006 US Air Force "Aim Points" entitled, "Air Force explores unmanned version of F-117 stealth fighter aircraft" explicitly laid out the plan, and then supposedly just recently that article was "updated" with multiple reasons as to why the F-117 will never become a UCAV.
Lets explore some of their reasons why the F-117 will not be a UCAV.
Quote: "The reason we want to retire the F-117 is because of the cost of operating it... If we unman it, we don't save any of that cost."
Oh come on now. Is unmanning and maintenance on an F-117 more expensive than a Boeing X-45, a Northrop X-47 or a Lockheed Polecat, plus the support and maintenance for any of those systems?
And what of the void that retiring the F-117's leave? The Raptors are not yet available in sufficient numbers, the first F-35 JSF off the assembly line isn't flying as of this writing and it will be 5+ years before they are available in sufficient numbers.
Quote: "One aspect of the unmanned Nighthawk concept that is known is that the converted F-117's would not have an in-flight refueling capability like their manned counterparts."
Ok, that's just wrong. On August 30th, 2006 a a DARPA/NASA/AFRL F-18 conducted the first autonomous air refueling ever.
Quote: AF Sec Michael Wynne indicated at a congressional hearing in February that the aircraft which relies on 1970's era stealth technology, is becoming more vulnerable."
That's right, which is why there is wisdom in retaining the services of the F-117 but taking the pilot out of harms way. You have to bear in mind that the F-117 is still more survivable that an F-15E Strike Eagle in heavily defended airspace and for kicking down the door on the first day of hostilities an unmanned F-117 just makes tons of sense.
I point out these fallacies in the article to demonstrate that if truth is embraced rather than misdirection, it should be plain that at least some of the retired F-117's are going to become stealth UAVs; basically unmanned bombers. Sources:
"UAVs: Autonomous Air Refueling (AAR)"; Just Another Defense Technology Blog, Friday, September 15, 2006
"Air Force explores unmanned version of F-117 stealth fighter aircraft"; US Air Force Aim Points, April 21, 2006
"F-117: A long, storied history that is about to end"; Air Force Print News, October 28, 2006