The Shape of Things to Come

Feb. 1, 1989

Air Force technologists, the wizards in charge of conjuring up weapons for the next century, are coming under pressure to work their magic.

Leaders of the Air Force’s 8,000 scientists and engineers working at fourteen major laboratories are marshaling forces to take on a massive array of projects that will shape the service well beyond the year 2000.

They say that a drive to develop “revolutionary enabling technologies” within the next several years will undergird the Air Force’s apparent plans for generating new military weaponry on an awe­some scale.

The scope of the ambitions embraced by the Air Force is evident to those familiar with USAF’s “Science & Technology and Development Planning Program,” a thirty-two-page list of arms concepts produced by Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) officers.

Their concepts for the far future—that is, beyond the turn of the century—include robotic air vehi­cles, automated attack systems, advanced air-supe­riority missiles, autonomous antiarmor weapons, hypervelocity munitions, high-altitude long-endurance vehicles, and automatic image inter­preters.

In addition, planners envision multimedia ra­dios, laser communication systems, high-power microwave weapons, stealthy transport airplanes, long-range conventional cruise missiles, laser sat­ellite links, and hypersonic aircraft.

Even the weapons envisioned for deployment within the next decade pose formidable challenges. Examples of such “next-generation” concepts in­clude the Advanced Tactical Fighter, multimission drones, noncooperative aircraft identification sys­tems, millimeter-wave ground-attack missiles, long-range optical sensors, automatic target recog­nizers, and space-based radars.

Overall, AFSC’s list of prospective twenty-first-century systems to meet the Air Force’s stated operational requirements contains no fewer than 224 high-technology concepts in mission areas ranging from armament to space.

AFSC leaders, aware that every weapon concept entails development of many costly technologies at a time of harsh budgetary pressures, are con­centrating on those that promise a high payoff. Says Gen. Bernard Randolph, AFSC’s commander: “The challenge is to focus valuable science and technology resources into areas that can achieve the greatest increase in combat capability.”

Across thirteen general areas such as air vehi­cles, avionics, and the like, officers have selected ninety-one key “major technology thrusts” for em­phasis, each containing a number of individual technologies. Specific examples of these technolo­gies include:

• Photonics technologies that would permit a massive increase in capacity of military computers and reduce vulnerability to electronic warfare.

• High-temperature materials capable of retain­ing strength in temperatures as high as 4,000 de­grees Fahrenheit.

• Nonlinear optics technologies in which light could be used in radically new ways for automatic tracking or elimination of atmospheric interfer­ence.

• High energy density propellants, chemically bound materials that might greatly increase fuel powers while reducing weight.

• Smart skins, surfaces whose embedded trans­mitting and receiving functions would eliminate today’s need for pods and domes, which increase radar signatures.

• Knowledge-based systems that would use arti­ficial intelligence to perform human-type logic ex­ercises in avionics and weapons.

Notwithstanding the promise of these and many other technologies, Air Force officers acknowledge the magnitude of the weapons challenge ahead. What follows is a full picture of the task, based on AFSC’s analysis of possible ways to meet Air Force needs in ten key mission areas.

Tactical Fighter Forces

The most clear-cut ambition fo­cuses on improvements to the tactical fighter forces that form the

bedrock of Air Force combat power.

The service’s technological es­tablishment envisions new air su­premacy and attack vehicles of un­paralleled strength—stealthy, agile, far-seeing, and resilient, yet pos­sessing an abundance of power. All these attributes and more, it is thought, will be needed to meet, in what promises to be a harsh twenty-­first-century environment, require­ments set by Tactical Air Command officers.

These requirements do not only include the capability to fight at night and in foul weather, locate and destroy mobile tactical targets, con­duct airfield attack, survive in aerial combat, go after the hardest of hard targets, and carry out long-range in­terdiction. In addition, the systems must be reliable and easy to sup­port.

At present, those needs are filled, with a greater or lesser degree of success, by such aircraft as the F-15, F-16, F-4, F-111, A-10, and A-7, based on earlier technologies that have led to improved reliability, secure communications, tactical de­cision aids, and integrated informa­tion processing. A need is foreseen for aircraft of greatly increased powers.

Some are expected to emerge in the “next generation” of weapons to be in service around the turn of the century. For the air-superiority role, the Advanced Tactical Fighter receives top billing. The Agile Falcon makeover of the F-16 fighter, along with an all-weather version of that versatile General Dynamics air­craft, are foreseen as the most likely multimission complements to the ATF itself.

AFSC is also working toward new aircraft for the close-air support, long-range attack, and defense sup­pression missions. Proposals in­clude the possible development of a multimission, remotely piloted drone for various uses.

These air vehicles are expected to boast major advances in avionics. One example: so-called “noncoop­erative” aircraft identification sys­tems able to perform the vital identi­fication task by passive means. Next-generation aircraft could have links for instantaneous transmis­sion of strike data, avionics suites capable of reconfiguring while in flight, and integration of sensors and other functions on a grand scale.

Success in these areas is con­tingent on a number of key technol­ogies now emerging in AFSC labs. Chief among them are stealth prop­erties that help to reduce aircraft signatures across the board. Tech­nologists are striving to develop and perfect head-steerable target sys­tems, multispectral and multimode sensors, sensors hardened against radiation, self-repairing flight con­trols, lightweight structures, and in­ternetting of various communica­tions systems. Also in prospect are faster and greatly simplified cockpit displays and night-vision devices.

For beyond the turn of the cen­tury, tactical aircraft concepts pose greater technological challenges. Among those concepts are robotic air vehicles for varied combat func­tions. Ultrasophisticated interdic­tion aircraft and a new multirole fighter are also being studied. Back­ing these up are such concepts as high-altitude/high-Mach protective equipment for crews, the Super Cockpit of multiple, integrated functions, and a fully automated at­tack system based on futuristic computer systems.

Making these concepts come to life will not be easy. The Air Force will have to master technologies now in the earliest stages of devel­opment. They include acoustic sig­nature reduction, “few vs. many” air-to-air automated engagement systems, and flight decision aids based on artificial intelligence—systems that permit computers to conduct exercises in human-type logic.

The tactical force of the future also would benefit from successful development of the High-Perfor­mance Turbine Engine, a power-plant envisioned as having twice the thrust of, and far less weight than, today’s most advanced engines, as well as short- and vertical-takeoff and landing technologies, in-flight thrust reversers, and robotic servic­ing of aircraft. An all-aspect head-up display and new systems that provide finely honed target discrim­ination will also be required.

Aircraft Armament

To complement what promises to be a greatly strengthened aircraft force in the future, the Air Force is mapping improvements in armament over the full range of combat missions.

The weapons now under study address requirements of extraordi­nary magnitude. Air Force users, for example, want the capability to employ weapons confidently at night and in poor weather. They want extreme standoff range, resis­tance to electronic countermea­sures, capability to destroy heavily fortified targets, and greater ease of maintenance and handling. They want to be able to “launch and leave,” achieve multiple kills with a single pass over a target, and yet be able to reduce the pilot’s work load.

In addition, the new weapons will have to be stealthier, approach near-perfect accuracies, and have utility across a wider spectrum of engage­ment conditions.

Today’s weapons fall short of these requirements. Based on older technologies of laser guidance, elec­tronic fuzing, imaging infrared seekers, and the like, they include such air-to-air weapons as the AIM-9 Sidewinder and new AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, as well as a host of air-to-ground systems. While such weapons are effective today and for the near term, the future will pose problems for them.

As a result, technologists are focusing on highly advanced con­cepts, particularly for ground at­tack. Possibilities for relatively near-term usage include a version of the Maverick missile that incorpo­rates millimeter-wave guidance. Also listed is an “autonomously guided weapon” able to carry out its mission with no instructions from a pilot after launch.

Planners are also investigating new forms of conventional cruise missiles, hard-target weapons, modular standoff weapons, muni­tions containing advanced inertial guidances, and hypervelocity mis­siles capable of traveling at least five times the speed of sound.

For air-to-air combat, the next generation of weapons is expected to include the AIM-132 Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile and an upgraded version of the AMRAAM weapon.

With respect to these next-gener­ation arms concepts, technology development has become particu­larly active. Work is proceeding on autonomous guidance systems, powerful hard-target warheads, “stealthy” rocket motors, light­weight and stealthy structures, and multirole warheads. Also being pressed are new advances in al­gorithms that would permit micro­computers to “recognize” targets within a mass of data, as well as “smart” fuzing and low-cost compo­nents. Computational fluid dynam­ics, a computer-aided means of op­timizing aerodynamic shapes (see “The Electronic Wind Tunnel,” p. 62), is expected to play a major part in weapons design.

Then come weapons for the dis­tant future. For the time period be­yond the turn of the century, the Air Force is pursuing a different set of technologies in hopes of achieving a big payoff in combat power. Now getting major attention within the laboratories are technologies of “brilliant guidance,” which include such techniques as laser radar sen­sors and exploitation of infrared and millimeter-wave signatures of tar­gets to enhance recognition.

Other key technologies pertain to development of materials and de­sign of hard-target penetrators and high-energy “insensitive” high ex­plosives—materials that resist acci­dental detonation due to fire or blast. A family of technologies—hy­personic separation aerodynamics, high-temperature materials, and hy­personic guidance integration—is obviously germane to development of ultrahigh-speed missiles.

Based on the expectation that these and other technologies will mature reasonably well, USAF has postulated some remarkable weap­ons for the inventory of the early twenty-first century. It envisions development of an “Advanced Air Superiority Missile” far superior to even the AMRAAMs of tomorrow. For the air-to-ground mission, fu­ture forces might well be able to call on fully autonomous antiarmor weapons, autonomous “high-value target” missiles, hypervelocity sub-munitions, and advanced mines dis­persible over a wide area after re­lease from an aircraft.


In the area of reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, the level of sophistication that the Air Force seeks in its future systems is evident in the performance goals that the service is setting for itself.

Stated Air Force requirements, although few in number, are ex­tremely challenging. Operational commands say they must greatly ex­pand the visual and electronic spec­trum within which they are able to work, with particular emphasis on passive detection measures. They seek highly advanced, computer­ized correlation and fusion of recon­naissance data to provide, among other things, instant, automatic rec­ognition of targets.

In addition, USAF’s operational users are asking technologists to provide means for decentralizing full intelligence stations to the unit level and for setting up robust, se­cure communications with a low probability of enemy intercept.

This, the Air Force makes plain, will require systems considerably more advanced than those deployed in its current generation of recon­naissance and intelligence forces, which are based on earlier technolo­gies of digital data links, electro-­optical sensors, digital recorders, multisensor fusion, clutter rejec­tion, and rapid software prototyp­ing. Today’s collection platforms such as the RF-4C, TR-1, and SR-71, sensors such as the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Ra­dar System (Joint STARS) multi-mode radar, and associated process­ing and dissemination systems will have to give way to more advanced concepts.

For the next generation, Air Force planners foresee develop­ment of an advanced and possibly “stealthy” platform, known as the FX-R, to take up the tactical recce duties of the RF-4C. To meet near-term requirements, attention is also being given to a vast array of new, highly sensitive sensors. Among them: a very-long-range optical sen­sor, advanced electronic-intelli­gence-gathering systems, systems to provide time-correlation of signal intelligence, advanced radar lo­cators, and laser-detection systems.

At the same time, systems used to both process and pass along vital intelligence data are due for upgrad­ing over the next several years. Pro­cessing concepts being studied in­clude systems that manipulate im­ages in three dimensions, devices for mass storage and recording in wide bands, correlators of car­tographic images, and systems that perform as automatic target “recognizers.” Distribution of the final product will be enhanced by antijam, high-frequency communi­cations and integrated voice/data switches.

The technologies that will form the basis of these systems are among the most highly classified anywhere—parallel computer pro­cessing, pattern recognition, pho­tonics, low observables, and laser communications, to name only the most obvious. Perfecting them is viewed as a major challenge.

Even more challenging will be the development of technologies re­quired for those reconnaissance systems that come later.

In the twenty-first century, the in­telligence-gatherers may well be de­ploying fleets of hypervelocity vehi­cles, capable of tremendous speed and range. Other concepts include use of low-cost tactical drones and high-altitude, long-endurance air­craft as collection platforms. Sen­sors are expected to move into ad­vanced-frequency domains and even become expendable.

On the ground, collected data may be analyzed by automatic, expert image-interpreters and language translation and transcrip­tion machines. Wideband, high-frequency radios, radios that convey data in multiple media, and advanced, secure laser communica­tions would be the means of trans­mitting the product to combat com­manders.

These devices would be the off­spring of technologies now glimmer­ing in the distance. The laboratories will have to come up with the keys to not only hypersonic and high-al­titude aerodynamics, but also hy­personic and high-altitude engines, instantaneous target recognition, and machines that think like hu­mans. Also required, in the view of AFSC planners, will be so-called “smart” aircraft skins capable of precise sensing in all directions and communications that are imper­vious to compromise and jamming.

Electronic Combat

If the proposals of Air Force technologists give an accurate glimpse of what the future holds, USAF’s multifaceted electronic combat forces are due for a major strengthening.

Already, scientists and engineers are proposing concepts that prom­ise great advances over such sys­tems as the F-4G Wild Weasel air­craft, High-Speed Antiradiation Missiles (HARM), jammers, and a plethora of other systems that make up the EC force of today. The con­cepts are intended to meet expand­ing requirements of tactical users across a broad front, from self-pro­tection of combat aircraft to real­istic simulation and training, from destruction of enemy electronic combat forces to disruption and suppression of these threats.

Within the next decade, for exam­ple, new concepts in self-protection systems are likely to be introduced. Proposals include warning and as­sessment systems such as milli­meter-wave devices, infrared search and track systems, and laser scan­ners capable of giving precise range and bearing of enemy aircraft. Such missile-thwarting systems as auto­matic chaff dispensers and towed decoys are in the works, as are in­ternal jammers capable of going against all enemy signals.

In the same time period, the Air Force wants to begin introducing new systems for demolishing enemy electronic threats. Planners see a need for new aircraft to perform the “Wild Weasel” radar-killing mission now carried out by an aging fleet of F-4G aircraft. The HARM would be updated and strengthened with a new dual-mode antiradiation seeker suited to missions against the most sophisticated Soviet radars. De­structive drones are being studied for missions against enemy elec­tronic warfare, ground-control-in­tercept, and target acquisition sys­tems as well as Soviet communica­tions jammers.

Finally, plans call for stiffening the electronic-disruption powers of US forces by expanding the fre­quency coverage of the EF-11IA electronic warfare aircraft, provid­ing self-defense for the EC-130H Compass Call aircraft, and deploy­ing jamming drones in abundance.

Making such systems possible are a number of key technologies now in various stages of develop­ment. Scientists are working hard, for example, on new millimeter-wave, electro-optical, and laser-sensing technologies. They are also working on parallel processors that expand the speed and capacity of computers used for processing threat signals.

Development of antennas that conform to the shape of aircraft, thereby reducing radar signatures, is of key importance. The so-called “fail-soft, fault-tolerant” generation of electronics—layered systems that continue to work even if a sin­gle component breaks—is critical. So is the technology of integrating various electronic warfare func­tions into a single, robust system.

Technologists are working equal­ly hard on the key technologies for systems now on the far horizon. Those the Air Force considers vital are means to detect stealthy or low-signature airborne threats, high-power microwave technologies, and artificial intelligence for monitoring and keeping track of vast amounts of data emanating from enemy air­craft and emitters. These and other technologies will be used to feed an entirely new generation of elec­tronic combat hardware after the year 2000.

Among such futuristic concepts are totally integrated situational dis­plays for friendly aircraft, multi-spectrum expendables, directional automatic dispensers, protection from lasers and high-power micro­waves, full-spectrum jammers, and radio-frequency weapons—all for aircraft self-protection.

US capability to destroy enemy systems would be expanded by con­cepts such as highly advanced sig­nal processors and drones able to locate, home in on, and destroy en­emy sensors, whether they be mi­crowave, millimeter-wave, electro­-optical, or laser in nature. For dis­ruptive activity, USAF may choose to pursue development of low-band advanced jammers, unmanned air vehicles against all types of signals, and high-power countermeasures to enemy electronic systems. Ad­vanced communications deceptions also are being conceptualized.

Mobility Forces

Strengthening the military air transport arm, too, is emerging as a preoccupation of Air Force planners. In fact, airlifters and as­sociated support equipment that provide high mobility for conven­tional and special operations forces (SOF) could undergo striking change.

What Air Force operators require seems clear enough: a fifty percent increase in intertheater airlift, up to a minimum capacity of some 66,000,000 ton-miles per day; intra­theater transports capable of haul­ing heavy, outsize cargoes; better and more numerous combat rescue aircraft; improved long-range trans­ports and gunships for small-scale SOF activities; and greatly ex­panded meteorological capabilities.

While the requirements are pro­saic, some concepts for meeting them are not. New, high-technology equipment seems destined to re­place or supplement the mobility force of today, which is built around C-5, C-141, and KC-10 long-range lifters, C-130 intratheater lifters, and the various fixed-wing and heli­copter craft assigned to special op­erations duty.

At the heart of the “next genera­tion” of transport systems lies the proposed C-17 lifter, capable of per­forming both long-haul and short-distance missions with equal effec­tiveness. Air Force plans now call for producing 210 of these aircraft by 1998, although the outlook is clouded somewhat by budget pres­sures.

Like the huge C-5 Galaxy, the C-17 will be able to carry outsize cargo such as Ml Abrams tanks. Unlike the Galaxy, the new lifter will also be able to deliver such car­go directly to small, austere air­fields. C-17 plans call for a capabili­ty to land on a runway 3,000 feet long and ninety feet wide. Thrust reversers will give it the ability to back up on the runway. About fif­teen percent of the C-17 will be made of lightweight composite ma­terials.

Another new transport, the CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, is aimed at improving the Air Force’s ability to support special operations. Able to hover like a helicopter and cruise with the speed of a fixed-wing aircraft, it is designed to ease clandestine insertion and extraction of forces behind enemy lines.

The next generation of meteoro­logical systems—critical to effec­tive worldwide flying operations—is expected to bring major advances over those of today. Concepts in­clude an automated weather-data dis­tribution system, highly advanced radars, and a new, block upgrade to the existing Defense Meteorological Satellite Program structure.

All these systems will draw heav­ily on key technologies that have been, and still are, under develop­ment in numerous Air Force labora­tories. Artificial-intelligence sys­tems, lightweight materials, multi-spectrum sensors, parallel pro­cessors, reduction of infrared sig­natures, and high-power engines are but a few of the technologies that will find their way into mobility forces of tomorrow.

Beyond the next generation of air­craft will come systems based on even more advanced technologies. Entirely passive means for reliable, low-level navigation, techniques for autonomous landing, passive self-protection devices, and ultralight­weight materials are all being pur­sued. High-performance turbine en­gines of greatly increased thrust, short and vertical takeoff and land­ing capabilities, and, especially, ad­vanced low-observable technolo­gies will come into play.

These types of technologies and others now in their infancy are ex­pected to permit the Air Force to develop and deploy, in the early twenty-first century, what it calls the “Advanced Strategic Airlifter” and the “Advanced Tactical Trans­port.” Additional concepts include new, high-technology versions of transports and gunships for SOF missions. The latter could carry highly advanced forms of weaponry. These aircraft are expected to inher­it virtually everything Air Force technologists have achieved in ap­plying STOL and even stealth tech­nologies to other planes.

Strategic Offense

Nowhere is the magnitude of long-range Air Force ambitions—and the difficulty USAF will encounter trying to achieve them—more evident than in the realm of strategic nuclear weaponry.

What service leaders want to ac­complish over the next decade or so seems challenging indeed. They hope to overcome present deficien­cies and achieve true capability to rapidly find and strike strategic re-locatable targets such as Soviet mo­bile ICBMs and to strike deeply bur­ied targets such as hardened Soviet command bunkers.

In addition, they say they want to strengthen the survivability of USAF’s penetrating bomber fleet, deploy new ICBMs in ways that make them relatively secure against surprise attack, and increase the re­fueling capacity of the USAF tanker force. They are calling for ICBM warheads able to penetrate layered defenses, should Moscow choose to deploy them. They assert a need to integrate conventional munitions into strategic forces in a big way.

But the premier weapons for achieving the goals—new manned bombers and superaccurate, mobile ICBMs—are expensive, politically controversial, or both, especially in an arms-control era marked by calls for deep reductions of superpower arsenals. Congressional approval is far from certain.

Even so, planners believe they have the proper systems concepts to strengthen a strategic armory now reliant on silo-based Minute­man and Peacekeeper missiles, B-1 and B-52 bombers, KC-135 and KC-10 tankers, and first-generation air-launched cruise missiles and gravity bombs.

Heading the list of “next-genera­tion” nuclear systems: Northrop’s B-2 Advanced Technology Bomber, the stealthy, radar-foiling flying wing rolled out last November in Palmdale, Calif. USAF wants to buy 132 B-2s, at an average cost of $516 million per copy, to confront future Soviet air defenses. The B-2 currently remains in the develop­ment stage.

Concepts for strengthening the ICBM leg of the strategic triad in­clude Peacekeepers deployed in rail-garrison basing, single-warhead Midgetmen based on mobile launch­ers, and movable Minuteman IV/V intercontinental weapons. Also to be made available are new, earth- penetrating warheads to dig out heavily defended bunkers.

Plans call for a new generation of bomber-borne weapons, such as an upgraded short-range attack mis­sile—SRAM II—and the radar-de­ceiving Advanced Cruise Missile, both of them nuclear. New conven­tional cruise missiles and “hard tar­get munitions” also are in sight.

Underpinning these systems is a host of key technologies brought into being in recent years—low ob­servables, radiation-hardened de­vices, enhanced chemical pro­pellants, advanced materials, multi-mode sensors, automatic target cuing, multisource data processing, and technologies that reduce telltale signatures of nuclear reentry vehi­cles. None has reached full matu­rity, though many are nearing that stage.

Beyond the next-generation sys­tems, the ICBM leg of the triad be­gins to seem problematic. Systems Command planners forecast no new ballistic missile concept, only “enhancements” of the existing force, presumably some combina­tion of Peacekeeper, Midgetman, and Minuteman.

The future looks very different when it comes to manned bomber aircraft. The lineal descendent of the B-2, in the Air Force’s concep­tual view, may well be some form of hypersonic air vehicle capable of traversing long distances and zoom­ing from an airstrip into space and back again.

Supporting such a breathtaking aircraft would be a new aerial tanker now known as the KC-X. Supersed­ing the bomber missiles and muni­tions of the next generation: hyper­sonic attack weapons.

To make these a reality, Air Force technologists will have to score breakthroughs in hypersonics, combined cycle propulsion, ultra-high-speed computer processing, high energy density propellants, Super Cockpit technologies, super­conductors, high-temperature and high-strength materials, fast-burn­ing propellants, and active cooling techniques.

Strategic Defense

As it surveys the military re­quirements for effective strategic defenses—that is, protection of US territory from nuclear attack or coercion—the Air Force perceives a broad array of needs.

In its view, large-scale improve­ments are in order for some capabil­ities such as the ability to gain tac­tical warning of ballistic missile attack, rapid assessment of the scope and nature of an attack, and the like. Other needs—to conduct atmospheric and space surveillance and tracking, to protect US space vehicles from attack, to intercept threatening aircraft at long ranges and to intercept small air vehicles—are new.

At present, the Air Force bases its strategic defense effort on a nar­row array of systems whose utility is limited almost exclusively to warning. The Satellite Early Warn­ing System, Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), Pave Paws radars, and the Nuclear Deto­nation Detection System would pro­vide notice of an ICBM attack and some assessment of its scale. The North Warning System, Over-the­-Horizon Backscatter Radar net­work, and Distant Early Warning

Line would alert Washington to a bomber or cruise missile assault. Ground-based deep space surveil­lance systems and space surveil­lance radars would keep track of US and Soviet space assets. With the exception of a few air defense fight­ers, no active means for resisting attack currently exist.

A large number of emerging tech­nologies is cited as the basis for al­tering what is deemed an inadequate posture. Primary among them are means to detect stealthy air vehi­cles, lightweight structures, sophis­ticated multispectral sensors, radia­tion-hardened microelectronics, survivable solar panels, parallel processors, adaptive optics, im­proved atmospheric transmission codes, and clutter rejection tech­niques.

What kind of systems could emerge from these technologies? For the next generation, concepts for ballistic missile defense systems include a new system to replace the Satellite Early Warning network and major modifications designed to improve the BMEWS network and Pave Paws radars.

For defense against air-breathing threats, the Air Force foresees deployment of space-based radars, up­grades to the OTH radars, upgrades to the air defense fighter fleet, up­grades of E-3C AWACS aircraft, and use of an advanced aerial plat­form to monitor air corridors.

Space defense activities are focusing on concepts such as Deep Space Surveillance Radar, a Satel­lite On-Board Attack Reporting System for warning, and an air-launched antisatellite weapon to help deter the Soviet Union from initiating use of its own “satellite killer” weapons.

The real leaps in strategic defense capability, however, would not come until some time after the next generation of systems had been de­ployed.

In the conceptual view of Air Force planners, new technologies would enable the US in the far fu­ture to confront missile attacks in a more effective fashion. They envi­sion advanced directed-energy weapons—lasers, neutral particle beams—taking on waves of missiles and warheads. It might also be pos­sible to build highly accurate and effective kinetic-energy weapons able to hurl projectiles great dis­tances at high speeds. Feeding in target data would be the Space Sur­veillance and Tracking System, a network of satellites envisioned as having unprecedented abilities to detect and pinpoint small objects in space. The Boost Surveillance and Tracking System would serve a sim­ilar purpose with respect to missiles in the first minutes after launch.

Other concepts are advanced as possible answers to the long-term threat of attack through the atmo­sphere. Long-range hypersonic arms, able to close rapidly on at­tacking aircraft, are one possibility, as are interceptor missiles that could cruise at supersonic speeds. Another option for the future: an advanced interceptor fighter.

Protection of satellite assets would get a boost. Maneuvering “defensive” satellites, ground- based lasers to shoot down hostile space vehicles, and space-based in­terceptor vehicles are but a few of the possible options.

These systems will require tech­nologies such as “brilliant” guid­ance, noncooperative target recog­nition, precision pointing and track­ing, hypersonics, artificial iono­spheric mirrors, directed energy, and high-power microwaves.

Space Vehicles, Operations, and Services

From all appearances, the great advances that the Air Force foresees for its earthbound forces might be replicated in space. The service is signaling that improved space systems will be required if the US is to exploit the possibilities of this high frontier to the fullest ex­tent.

The increasing US reliance on space-based technology for national security and civilian functions, USAF maintains, has upped the ante for developers of space sys­tems. Both the immediate and far future will require more responsive operational launch processing, im­provements in on-orbit control of space vehicles, better space ser­vices, strengthened space contribu­tions to worldwide navigation, and more precise environmental moni­toring capabilities.

Already at hand are a number of key technologies that hold the promise of providing the capabili­ties the Air Force maintains that it needs. Key among these are those that focus on control of large space structures, advanced orbit transfer propulsion, microelectronics hard­ened against radiation, lightweight structures, spacecraft charge con­trol, and antennas for transmission of extremely-high-frequency sig­nals. Also getting strong laboratory attention are high-efficiency solar power cells, autonomous guidance systems, and wideband communi­cations links.

One projected result of the tech­nological explosion: advanced vehi­cles for launching payloads into space. That function is now per­ formed in large part by the fleet of space shuttles and various Titan, Centaur, and Delta rockets. The next generation of systems, how­ever, will include projects such as the Advanced Launch Vehicle, a new and more effective orbital ma­neuvering vehicle, expendable or­bital transfer vehicles, and reusable orbital transfer vehicles.

The next-generation technologies hold out hope for much-improved on-orbit control of space vehicles. The up-and-down communications and control links between earth-based facilities and operating satel­lites will become more survivable. Also possible are effective cross-links between satellites.

In the area of space services, Air Force technologists foresee devel­oping, within the next decade or so, new and survivable forms of solar panels for production of power as well as highly advanced nickel-hydrogen batteries. A sharply up­graded version of today’s Global Position System, known as GPS IIR, will afford more precise and responsive navigation powers to military forces on earth around the turn of the century.

Beyond the year 2000, improve­ments in the Air Force’s ability to conduct space operations will hinge on a variety of new technologies now attracting the attention of sci­entists and engineers in a big way. The object is to develop more effec­tive technologies for spacecraft, space power, propulsion, micro­electronics, and communications.

Key among these will be what is termed robotic telepresence, which is the use of dexterous manipulators such as mechanical hands con­trolled and directed from great dis­tances by humans. High energy density propellants, which could yield up to sixteen times the energy density of existing propellant mate­rials such as liquid and solid fuels, might bring about a twofold in­crease in launch vehicle lift capacity as well as a three- to fivefold in­crease in upperstage orbit transfer capability.

Also in store are so-called “fail-soft, fault-tolerant” computers, meaning that an individual failure within the system will not inhibit continued operations. Photonics­—the use of basic particles of light as an agent of transmission—could dramatically increase the speed and capacity of information transfer in computers while reducing heat gen­erated in the system.

The promise held by these and other futuristic technologies leads service scientists to postulate re­markable, far-future space system concepts. The current mixed launch force of manned space shuttles and unmanned rocket boosters, for ex­ample, might be supplemented by manned, single-stage-to-orbit vehi­cles that would be at home either in the atmosphere or in space. On-orbit control would be enhanced by fleets of autonomous, self-directing satellites and by survivable, jam-proof laser crosslinks tying together numerous independent satellites. Also foreseen are on-orbit repair and servicing of spacecraft and in­stallation of microelectronics re­sistant to radiation damage.

Command and Control

The future foreseen by the Air Force implies an obvious need for improvements to its command and control system—the nervous system of radios, computer sta­tions, and communications satel­lites that enables civilian and mili­tary decision-makers to instruct the nation’s strategic and general-pur­pose forces in a timely fashion.

The service projects a menu of clear-cut requirements for the de­cades ahead. It wants technologists to improve the Air Force battle management powers that are based on information processing and deci­sion aids; reduce vulnerability of communications to electronic countermeasures, electromagnetic pulse, and physical attack; integrate tactical warning and assessment of missile, atmospheric, and space at­tack; and strengthen theater surveil­lance functions such as detection, tracking, and identification.

For the relatively near future, USAF will base its efforts on specif­ic technologies already identified as critical. The laboratories will push to perfect new breeds of parallel computer processors that are se­cure from interference at multiple levels. They are at work on “smart,” self-directing workstations involved in battle management. Laser com­munications, artificial intelligence processing techniques, photonic de­vices, processors for wideband extremely-high-frequency commu­nications, and passive sensors capa­ble of recognizing targets at great distances all are considered essen­tial.

The promise of these technolo­gies leads the Air Force to propose new system concepts across the board. In the area of strategic com­mand and control, USAF foresees the possibility of a sweeping strate­gic war planning system, a center for rapid processing and correlation of target data, an adaptive planning system for Strategic Air Command, and a mobile system capable of pro­viding warning, processing, and dis­play of attack information. In addi­tion, USAF believes it will need to replace its present national emergency airborne command post air­craft, devise tactical data-process­ing stations, and come up with a command and control system for the mobile Midgetman missile, should Washington choose to build it.

For next-generation general-pur­pose forces, the Air Force has con­ceptualized an automated advanced planning system. The new Joint Tac­tical Information Distribution Sys­tem would permit multifunction dis­semination of target and other data across a wide range of forces. Adding to conventional command and control would be a new combat identification sensor, a network management processor, and a spe­cialized mission support system.

A number of concepts are pro­posed to meet the needs of strategic and conventional forces on a com­mon basis. These include an up­grade to the Defense Satellite Com­munications System, to the level known as DSCS IIIC, plus antijam high-frequency communications, integrated voice/data switches, and systems to provide multilevel secu­rity for communications and gate­ways to multiple command and con­trol networks.

The technologies of artificial in­telligence and photonics also will be vital in developing far-future sys­tems. The Air Force sees high po­tential in other technologies such as high-rate burst radio transmission, “smart” aircraft skins, three-dimen­sional situation displays, and detec­tion and tracking of advanced, stealthy platforms, all of which are now under review.

The systems concepts that these technologies would support include ultrasophisticated command cen­ters for ballistic missile defense forces, command and control net­works to manage the antimissile battle, and airborne centers to pro­vide processing and display of warn­ing information.

That’s in the strategic weapons field. For general-purpose forces, what the Air Force is looking for are radios that can transmit in multiple media, advanced airborne surveil­lance radars, and advanced tactical surveillance radars. Conventional forces also would benefit from multi-satellite networks, an advanced, se­cure satellite communications termi­nal, and wideband high-frequency radios.

Air Base Operability

As it charts its many future re­quirements and their associated systems, the Air Force has not neglected the critical need to keep its air bases operating in time of war. This “mission,” like electronic com­bat, strategic offensive action, and other wartime business, carries with it a demand for specialized. top-flight “weapons.”

In an age of expanding Soviet long-range airpower, American for­ward bases in Western Europe and Asia can no longer be viewed as sanctuaries from which the Air Force could operate free from inter­ference. The upshot, in the view of Air Force planners, is a new re­quirement to prevent air base dam­age by actively defending against the Soviet air and ground threat, in­creasing the base’s ability to survive an attack by providing passive de­fensive measures, enhancing the base’s ability to recover from an at­tack and get back into action, strengthening its post-attack powers to generate combat sorties, and bol­stering the infrastructure that sup­ports base operations.

Helping the Air Force to relieve the danger in the next decade will be such technologies as survivable base communications systems, easy-to-handle polymer concretes, means of detecting the presence of plastic explosives, and systems to contain the effects of chemical and biological warfare agents.

These and other technologies un­derlie a number of new system con­cepts proposed for possible future use. They will enhance the defen­sive fighting positions from which US base-defense troops would try to ward off commandos seeking to disable a base. To help the base sur­vive an attack, there would be in­frared reflectors to confuse Soviet attack pilots, high-strength shelters to protect base personnel, and per­sonal cooling systems to use in pro­tective suits.

In addition, the Air Force is working on transparent patches to repair cockpit canopies damaged in an attack, new substances to patch craters in runways, and vehicles called Oracle, Flail, and MARV/ SMUD that would be used to clear runways and taxiways. Revetted shelters and special munitions stor­age systems would help the base start operations quickly after an at­tack. Underlying the entire process are redundant utility cables and pipelines and precise, easy-to-use, handheld data-burst systems for base communications.

Even greater advances are sought in the far term, by which time tech­nologists are expected to have mas­tered rapid repair of advanced air­craft materials, robotic operations in hostile environments, and other base repair techniques. Forthcom­ing advances in short takeoff and landing technologies will greatly ease the task of keeping an air base functioning after attack. Aircraft will simply need less to land on.

For the twenty-first century, con­cepts include advanced intrusion barriers that could supplement or replace manned fighting positions. New forms of deception, the ability to relocate high-value base targets, and a new, impermeable protective suit will all contribute to the surviv­al of base systems and personnel. After an attack, the base and its air­craft might be brought back to life by using self-repairing avionics sys­tems along with robotic and re­motely controlled systems to dis­arm and dispose of unexploded ordnance. New treatments for bio­logical agent contamination are in the works.

Other concepts to help base per­sonnel weather an attack include collocation of fuel tanks within air­craft shelters, development of weapons containing “insensitive” high explosives, and other ad­vances. Throughout the air base, currently vulnerable infrastructure would be replaced with hardened utilities, hardened vehicles, robotic fire-fighting systems, and fiber-op­tic communications cables armored for protection against blast.