The Air Force is planning to “cross deck” the capability of two EC-130H Compass Call aircraft onto a new airplane, Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hawk Carlisle told reporters at ASC16. The work will be awarded sole-source, he said, to show how it could be done, but subsequent buys would be competitive. Carlisle also said the JSTARS Recap might be a pathfinder for a series of recapitalization efforts of RC-135 aircraft, and the E-3 AWACS, even though USAF officials have until recently said an AWACS recap would have to be deferred until the late 2020s or beyond. Of those aircraft, the Rivet Joint is “our most dire need” for recapitalization, Carlisle said, and AWACS is “falling off a cliff” in terms of maintainability in the long term. There’s been “no decision” about recapping all the ISR platforms with a common airframe, Carlisle said, and he later told Air Force Magazine that the ISR fleet recapitalization is not yet a funded project. Boeing last week pitched the 737 as the best candidate to host all the big-wing ISR missions, and at ASC16, displayed models of potential 737-based Compass Call, JSTARS, and Rivet Joint aircraft. (See also: Boeing offers 737 to Recap JSTARS, ISR Fleet.)
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.