America’s Next Spy Plane
The U-2 Spy Plane, the SR-71 Blackbird, and F-117 Nighthawk are three products of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works Operation and have all been at the forefront of the United States’ ISR efforts, which stands for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. However, Lockheed Martin knows that the key to being the best ISR country in the world is constant innovation and new technological developments. Superior technology has paved the way for American domination for decades. This is why Lockheed Martin wants a replacement for their older generation spy planes. The next generation will be named the TR-X. With this plane, America hopes to catapult itself further in front of its enemies in terms of ISR equipment.
The TR-X spy plane is currently only an idea, with the only tangible progress so far being notes and bullet points on a whiteboard. Lockheed plans to reuse the engine at work in its current U-2 plane, which is called the GE F118, and also create a modular payload system which will axe the old single-purpose use of spy planes and create a more versatile plane that can be modified with specific missions in mind.
Lockheed is hoping to design the TR-X to have a ceiling of 70,000 feet. This is a height that will allow for the plane to fly undetected by enemies from the ground and allow cameras to see much further due to the angle of elevation. Developers are also hoping that the plane can be used as a communications platform, relaying vital information to troops on the ground and in the air on locations, mission updates, and enemy location.
The TR-X will be unlike the U-2 and the Global Hawk (unmanned aircraft), in that it can be optionally manned. There can either be a pilot inside flying the plane, or the plane can autonomously fly itself using artificial intelligence.
The planes emphasis will be on adaptability and longevity in air. Equipped with a defense system the plan should be able to withstand any condition in order for a prolonged flight and reconnaissance mission.
Scott Winstead, a retired U-2 pilot and the U-2 strategic business manager says that Lockheed is looking at no earlier than 10 years for the release of the TR-X, so in order for the United States to keep its first place spot in the ISR race, they need to begin working now.
Written by Matthew Durborow, Edited by Alexander Fleiss