The boss of US Strategic Command, Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright acknowledges that the high-flying U-2 reconnaissance aircraft has one major drawback: its pilot. The pilot “limits the duration on station.” Having said that, Cartwright told lawmakers that its obvious replacement—the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle—has “to demonstrate its capability, both in the upgrades and the numbers, before we want to let go of the U-2.” Congress last year prevented the Air Force from accelerating U-2 retirement because it perceived an intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance gap. Cartwright admitted that USAF has to perform “a balancing act,” however he maintained, “I cannot afford a gap in capability.”
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.