RECONNAISSANCE

Aircraft

Uses in the 2010s

Materials arranged chronologically.

Drew, Christopher. "U-2 Spy Plane Evades the Day of Retirement." New York Times, 21 Mar. 2010. [http://www.nytimes.com]

"Because of updates in ... its powerful sensors, [the U-2] has become the most sought-after spy craft in ... Afghanistan. As it shifts from hunting for nuclear missiles to detecting roadside bombs, it is outshining even the unmanned drones in gathering a rich array of intelligence used to fight the Taliban.... [Today] the U-2 and its pilots ... are in direct radio contact with the troops in Afghanistan. And instead of following a rote path, they are now shifted frequently in midflight to scout roads for convoys and aid soldiers in firefights....

"In the weeks leading up to the recent offensive in Marja, military officials said, several of the 32 remaining U-2s found nearly 150 possible mines in roads and helicopter landing areas, enabling the Marines to blow them up before approaching the town. Marine officers say they relied on photographs from the U-2's old film cameras, which take panoramic images at such a high resolution they can see insurgent footpaths, while the U-2's newer digital cameras beamed back frequent updates on 25 spots where the Marines thought they could be vulnerable. In addition, the U-2's altitude, once a defense against antiaircraft missiles, enables it to scoop up signals from insurgent phone conversations that mountains would otherwise block....

"[T]he U-2's replacement sits right across the base -- the Global Hawk, a remote-controlled drone that flies almost as high as the U-2 and typically stays aloft for 24 hours or more. The first few Global Hawks have been taking intelligence photos in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a larger model that could also intercept communications has been delayed, and the Air Force is studying how to add sensors that can detect roadside bombs to other planes. So officials say it will most likely be 2013 at the earliest before the U-2 is phased into retirement."

Vanden Brook, Tom. "After Five Decades, the U-2 Is Still Flying High." USA Today, 28 Mar. 2011. [http://www.usatoday.com]

Because of delays in the development of the Global Hawk UAV, "[t]he Obama administration has nearly doubled its request to fund the 32-airplane fleet to $91 million to keep the U-2 aloft. The 80 Air Force pilots qualified to fly the tricky-to-handle plane can expect to continue their spy missions until 2015."

Lendon, Brad. "New Spy Plane Can Be Drone or Flown by Pilot." CNN, 9 May 2011. [http://news.blogs.cnn.com]

On 9 May 2011, Northrop Grumman Corp. introduced the Firebird intelligence-gathering system, "a spy plane that can be used as a drone or with a pilot onboard.... Northrop designed the Firebird's intelligence gathering systems while Scaled Composites, founded by experimental aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, designed and built the aircraft." According to Northrop, the propeller-driven aircraft "can fly up to 30,000 feet, with an endurance time as long as 40 hours."

Herman, Steve. "U-2 Spy Plane Still Flying High." VOA, 14 Dec. 2011. [http://www.voanews.com]

"Whether it's aiding NATO troops in Afghanistan, providing surveillance over North Korea or examining Japan's hurricane ravaged coast, the high altitude U-2 keeps flying despite initial plans to retire it by the end of this year.... The Defense Department, five years ago, intended to begin retiring the fleet. But Congress insisted the spy plane stay aloft until unmanned reconnaissance aircraft are capable of taking over its critical missions. The Air Force now says that will happen in 2015 when the Global Hawk RQ-4 drones can assume the U-2s missions."

Talmadge, Eric. "Cold War-famed U-2 Spy Planes Keep Watch on NKorea." Associated Press, 29 Feb. 2012. [http://www.ap.org]

"[T]he legendary U-2 'Dragon Lady' remains one of Washington's most prized possessions on the Cold War's last hot front. Pumped up by a $1 billion overhaul, a trio of these piloted aircraft are proving they can still compete with the most futuristic drones on a crucial mission: spying on North Korea."

Norris, Guy. "Exclusive: Skunk Works Reveals SR-71 Successor Plan." Aviation Week and Space Technology 175, no. 38 (4 Nov. 2013): 18-21. [http://www.aviationweek.com].

"Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has revealed exclusively to AW&ST details of long-running plans for what it describes as an affordable hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform that could enter development in demonstrator form as soon as 2018. Dubbed the SR-72, the twin-engine aircraft is designed for a Mach 6 cruise, around twice the speed of its forebear, and will have the optional capability to strike targets."

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