Air Force Ponders A Future Date With 'Mildred'
Defense Daily September 20, 2004
By Lorenzo Cortes
One of the dominant themes from last week’s Air Force Association Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition was the Air Force’s continued look at improved future long-range strike capabilities, dubbed “Mildred,” by Air Force Secretary James Roche.
“Primarily what we’re trying to do is to say let’s explore families of technologies--hypersonics, what could you do with a suborbital system--a whole series of things,” Roche said last week during a press briefing at the conference.
Then, during a series of 14 excursion studies, Roche said the Air Force asked itself what it could do if it had an extra weapon on the battlefield. “Let me just call it my favorite point word, a ‘Mildred,’” Roche explained. The Mildred would possibly have range equal to a Northrop Grumman B-2 bomber, have the capability to fight and carry enough lethality to attack moving targets and deeply buried targets.
The Mildreds were used in two of the 14 excursion studies, Roche added, also explaining it would likely serve as a bridge between existing systems and something in the long term.
What the Mildred turns out to be is yet to be determined. Some of the choices at this point regarding the Air Force’s bomber fleet is to let the existing inventory of B-1B, B-2 and B-52H bombers go to the end of their service lives, modernize them or introduce bridging technologies, Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hal Hornburg told reporters last week during a media roundtable.
The service April 29 issued a request for information (RFI) from industry on existing capabilities. Air Force officials are looking for a platform capable of quick response, persistence and survivability in hostile air space, according to the RFI. The platform must also be able to deliver a variety of payloads, including nuclear weapons and those systems designed to counter hard and deeply buried targets.
Air Force acquisition chief Marvin Sambur said earlier this year the technology would have to be proven to meet an interim need (Defense Daily, May 3).
Recently, $50 million was set aside to pursue the concept further (Defense Daily, June 16). “The monies we have are to flesh that out and start the concepts that fit along those lines,” Roche said.
The Air Force said currently that it is still ironing out a variety of questions pertaining to long-range strike. “What is the job we have to do?” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper said during the briefing. “If the job we have to do is to get halfway around the world or so in a minimum amount of time and be able to accurately deliver weapons, it will have to be something that can reliably get there. And it’s an open question as to whether it has to come back or not.”
This leads to a variety of “perplexing questions,” about the direction and nature of future technologies, Jumper added. “For instance, in hypersonics--we have hypersonic engines that are very promising. The question is what do you put it in? Because we don’t have the hypersonic materials yet to make the airplane.” Given that kind of development could take awhile, then Jumper posed the question as to what the bridging capability would look like.
“What does the bridge capability have to be able do?” he asked. The bridging capability would have to have the capabilities the service desires today--such as being able to fight and get through surface-to-air missile threats. Answers to these questions and more formal planning could take shape in the next couple of program objective memorandum (POM) cycles, Jumper said.
To that end, multiple contractors proposed a variety of answers to the original RFI that embrace everything from upgrades to existing aircraft, new weapons and outright new-build platforms.
Lockheed Martin submitted four possible solutions, according to John Perrigo, senior manager of combat air systems and Al Joersz, director of business strategy and development for the company’s Skunk Works group. This included an FB-22 evolution of the F/A-22 fighter, an arsenal ship based on the company’s C-130 transport, an advanced big bomber based on the MACK large aircraft concept and a missile based on the company’s ongoing work in the Force Application and Launch from the Continental U.S. (FALCON) program.
Boeing’s responses included a long-range X-45D iteration of its X-45C Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) entry, a “B-1R” version of the B-1B equipped with F119 engines produced by Pratt & Whitney, an arsenal ship based on the company’s Blended Wing Body (BWB) concept and a family of cruise missiles (Defense Daily, June 10). Boeing also said earlier this year it proposed an idea based on redirected energy laser relays. The idea involves placing a solid-state laser on the ground or on an aircraft far off from the intended target. The laser beam would be relayed to a high altitude airship--also at distance and far out of harm’s way--and then redirect the laser to the intended target (Defense Daily, July 26).
As the prime contractor for the B-2 program, Northrop Grumman is working with the Air Force to improve the bomber’s capabilities via the Global Strike Capabilities Initiative (GSCI) upgrade, which would improve both the computing power and increase the weapons suite for the aircraft (Defense Daily, March 1). Northrop Grumman also might exploit its own X-47B J-UCAS entry and envisions that interim long-range strike solutions also exist in upgrading the current fleet of bombers (Defense Daily, May 24).
What “interim” means at this point is also uncertain. “Until we know what the material solutions are to the out-year solutions, then we don’t know how much of a midterm solution we really need,” Jumper noted. “Can it be done with modernizing the existing bombers with new weapons? Or do you really need a midterm solution? I personally believe we are going to need a midterm solution.”
“My own sense is that we were looking at these things being fielded roughly around the period of 2020, 2025, somewhere in there,” Roche said about future long-range strike. “But we don’t have to make a decision right now. And if, for instance, there is a major downturn in the budget, it’s not clear whether you have to go that way or work the weapons a little harder.” One of Roche’s examples was pairing B-1B bombers with Lockheed Martin’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM).
Cool stuff!!!! The suborbital system looks kind of neat, all your need is to have RV's that use kinetic energy to pulverize a target and they can penetrate far in excess of any penetrator bomb especially screaming into the atmosphere at speeds over 17,000 mph.
Memo to the crew aboard that aircraft: Don't forget to wear your sunglasses...