Aircraft

Lockheed Martin unveils potential U-2 Successor

Lockheed Martin unveils potent...
Conceptual image of the Lockheed Martin TR-X
Conceptual image of the Lockheed Martin TR-X
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Conceptual image of the Lockheed Martin TR-X
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Conceptual image of the Lockheed Martin TR-X

The U-2 spy plane was first constructed atLockheed Martin's Skunk Works in 1955 and went on to become one ofthe most important intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft of the Cold War. It is one of the few aircraft of its vintage still in active service with the US Air Force, but Lockheed has now unveiled details of its possible successor. Designated the TR-X, the concept aircraft is an improved, stealthier version of the 60-year-old design and could enter service in 10 years.

With a wingspan of 103 ft (31 m) and a cruise speed of 475 mph (764 km/h), the U-2 carries a payload of 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) and can climb to its cruising altitude of over 70,000 ft (21,000 m) in a little over 45 minutes. According to Lockheed, at this altitude the spy plane can maintain surveillance over a wide area from a standoff position outside of hostile borders while providing longer line of sight data links.

The U-2 provided reconnaissance in almost every major international crisis involving the United States and was thrust into the public eye in 1960 when a CIA U-2A piloted by Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union. It underwent a major redesign in the 1980s and its mission expanded to include work as a flying NASA observatory.

Despite an extremely successful career, the U-2 will reach the end of its service life in 2019. The Air Force isn't currently seeking a replacement, but Lockheed is anticipating the day when it does.

On September 14 at the Air Force Association's annual symposium, Lockheed displayed its vision of the Tactical Reconnaissance X (TR-X) concept aircraft. First announced in August to mark the 60th anniversary of the U-2 program, the TR-X retains many features of the U-2, such as a similar airframe, the same F118 GE 101 engine, and the same cruising altitude, payload, speed, and climb rate.

However, Lockheed says that the TR-X will be cheaper than the U-2 and offer a number of improvements. The U-2 has about as much stealth as a 1950s airplane, so the TR-X will have a smaller radar profile, as well as better survivability and open missions systems architecture. It will carry new sensors, support systems, and possibly laser weapons.

One key change is that the TR-X will be man optional. This is a feature that the Air Force is looking into because it's advantageous in missions that are too dangerous for a pilot.

The TR-X currently exists only as a proposal and a conceptual drawing, but Scott Winstead, Lockheed Martin's business manager for the U-2, said that it could enter service around 2025. Winstead says that the TR-X is also a potential replacement for the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk.

Source: Lockheed Martin

10 comments
Nik
Surly a satellite can do the same job, while being beyond the range of most missiles?
ezeflyer
What's the use of these expensive bombers when potential enemies have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)?
the.other.will
No, Nik, a satellite can't do the same job. Minimum altitude for a satellite is about 150 km. Aircraft can take off to respond to an immediate need for intel much faster than a satellite can be launched. It's not clear from the concept image where the cockpit will be.
frogola
Northrop Grumman already has a spy plane up and running why do we need another from Lockheed with all the cost overruns and delays like the f22.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
The high altitude aircraft can maintain post.
vblancer
Nik satellites are hard to maneuver quickly and in a quickly evolving battlefield or troubled area an aircraft can be there in hours if not minutes depending on when they are stationed. Also aircraft can work around weather while a satellite is stuck if there is weather. As for budget there comes a time it is more expensive to keep old planes flying than building new ones. Aircraft are almost always going to be cheaper than satellites. Also satellites HAVE been shot down. We have done it, the Russians have done it and the Chinese have done it. Most of those have used missiles but newer laser weapons are going to make the space birds sitting ducks. Also these kinds of aircraft like the U2 have a great many peaceful uses like weather studies. As for cost and problems these subsonic aircraft are far less likely to have problems than something like F22 or F35.
Derek Howe
I agree with frogola, they had plenty of cost over runs on the F-22, but that was nothing compared to the F-35 boondoggle. The global Hawk can do what the U-2 has done, and it never has a pilot in harms way. If I was the USAF, I would tell Lockheed to not waste all their ill gotten profits on this.
IanRivlin
Am I missing something here? The U-2 Spy plane had a ceiling of over 70,000ft and a top speed very similar to this new aircraft. - So what's the benefit? Some surface to air missiles have a ceiling of 100,000 ft (ie, the S-300V). I'd have thought that if you're going to make a new spy plane, at least enable it to fly higher than the best SAM. After 50 years, that's not too much ask, surely?
Catweazle
frogola: "What's the use of these expensive bombers" It's not a bomber, it's a stealthy high altitude surveillance platform with a potential for unmanned operation. Try reading articles before commenting...
bugnuker
I would think satellites combined with man-portable UAV's coupled with the global hawk would about cover any situational awareness problem.