August 20, 2000
The US Air Force is skating on the thin edge of its U-2 spy plane fleet. The fleet consists of four U-2ST trainers, several U-2S aircraft at Beale AFB where they are used for training, and some forward-deployed aircraft. There are two spare aircraft, which are used to replace any aircraft which are sent for maintenance. The problem is the four U-2ST trainers. The Air Force plans to upgrade all of the U-2s with a totally new cockpit, including the four trainers. But without four two-seat trainers, the required number of pilots cannot be delivered to the operational units. The plan is to convert one of the two spares into another U-2ST, which will eliminate the problem but will leave the Air Force with only a single spare aircraft (at least until all four trainers are upgraded). If anything goes wrong, there could be problems. If Beale does not keep its full complement of aircraft, it cannot keep all of the air crews certified for more than 9 months. The Air Force plans a series of improvements for the U-2s.
1. The Syers infrared sensors provide night-vision capability equal to the current electro-optical systems, and will expand the U-2 sensor suite to seven channels. The stabilization provided to the Syers system will improve the electro-optical system resolution by 20%. This should be in service
2. The Air Force is reviewing ways to improve the transmission bandwidth because the current 274-megahertz datalink can only transmit the data from one of the seven sensor systems at a time. One solution is a laser transmitter that would relay the data from all seven channels to another aircraft that had a higher bandwidth transmitter.
3. Further upgrades to the Asars-2 radar (including a built-in GPS system) would provide high-precision targeting data in GPS format, allowing it to be used to target GPS guided bombs.
4. The Air Force wants to improve the electronic warfare (jamming) systems on the U-2. The Pentagon wants them to use the Integrated Defense Electronic Countermeasures suite, but the Air Force says it would cost too much to fit this to the U-2. The Air Force wanted to use the Army Suite of Integrated Radio Frequency Countermeasures system, but this has been delayed and doesn't work yet. To provide some EW support now, the Air Force is buying seven sets of a Lockheed system developed some time ago for the U-2 but never purchased as it wasn't aggressive enough. All of the U-2s will be
modified to use this system, but only those in forward deployments and one or two training aircraft will get it. In 2003, the Air Force will select a new EW system for the U-2, which might be the Lockheed system if nothing better proves itself.
5. Two new signal intelligence systems will be added for high and low bands.--Stephen V Cole