Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance chief Lt. Gen. Bob Otto said the service is working on the RQ-180 remotely piloted aircraft to give it better access to contested airspace, where the unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk and manned U-2S platforms are vulnerable. Otto declined to provide details about the aircraft in comments to Air Force Magazine after his June 9 address in Arlington, Va., that AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies sponsored. He did say the Air Force still needs the Global Hawk for “run-of-the-mill” operations. However, there are limits to its ability to image from standoff distances, and both it and the U-2 have “problems” seeing through or operating in bad weather, said Otto. During his speech, he mentioned “new” research and development to produce sensors that can get at “difficult-to-target” objects. For budgetary reasons, the Air Force position is that it needs “only one high-altitude reconnaissance platform” and it’s the RQ-4, not the U-2, said Otto in his speech. He didn’t say where the RQ-180 fits in the mix, but did say the Air Force is “over-invested in permissive [area] assets” in ISR.
More than 100 B-21s will be needed if the nation is to avoid creating a high demand/low capacity capability, panelists said on a Hudson Institute webinar. The B-21's flexibility, stealth, range and payload will be in high demand for a wide range of missions, both traditional and new.