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56 CSBA | TOWARD A NEW OFFSET STRATEGY

With ultra-long mission endurance enabled by tanking, a relatively small number of unmanned aircraft could affordably sustain persistent ISR-strike orbits.

can fly periodic 30-plus hour missions. In neither case, however, can such long missions be sustained owing to crew rest requirements. In the case of manned bombers, while B-2s have demonstrated the capability to fly long sorties, the vast majority of the mission time was spent in transit, during which the crew could take turns sleeping. Once a B-2 penetrates enemy airspace, both pilots are in their seats focusing actively on mission execution. As such, manned bomber “combat endurance”—the portion of the mission spent inside enemy airspace— should also be considered very limited, with even five hours “in the box” viewed as extreme. Air-refuelable unmanned aircraft, on the other hand, will be capable of generating on-station time measured in days per sortie by virtue of being able to cycle repeatedly off the mission tanker and back into enemy airspace (provided they have not exhausted onboard weapons). With ultra-long mission endurance (e.g., 48-plus hours) enabled by tanking, a relatively small number of unmanned aircraft could affordably sustain persistent ISR-strike orbits. In peacetime, this capacity would complement spacebased remote sensing, which can provide near-global coverage owing to the absence of over-flight restrictions. Unmanned aircraft, however, could provide a surveillance “stare” capability that cannot currently be provided by satellites. From international airspace, they could peer into the territory of prospective adversaries. In wartime, unmanned aircraft would provide a critical operational hedge against the loss of space both for ISR, precision navigation and timing (e.g., GPS “pseudolites”), and long-haul communications (airborne communication relays). An expanded, air-refuelable unmanned aircraft fleet could provide a responsive, geographically distributed, sustainable, scalable surveillance-strike capability. To minimize costs, the GSS network would exploit a “high-low” mix of unmanned aircraft with lower end systems (e.g., Global Hawk, Triton, and Reaper) providing much of the global ISR-strike coverage in peacetime, as well as in low-medium threat combat environments. Although the intent of the GSS concept would be to take advantage of legacy force structure as much as possible, it does call for the development and fielding of three new stealthy, longrange unmanned aircraft to rectify the current imbalance in the fleet with respect to range and survivability. The first would be a stealthy HALE ISR UAV to complement the RQ-4 Global Hawk, providing clandestine ISR support (and limited strike) in peacetime in denied or politically sensitive areas and critical wide-area ISR coverage in wartime in medium-high threat environments. While this aircraft might carry a limited strike payload—particularly useful in CT operations in defended or sensitive areas—it would be optimized for ISR and possibly electronic attack. The location of identified targets would be passed over secure, low probability of intercept/

Profile for Center of Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

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