Lockheed Martin is preparing an unsolicited offer to the Air Force for a “TR-X” replacement for the U-2, and could have something flying by 2025 if given the go-ahead. Scott Winstead, company U-2 strategic business manager, said at a press briefing during ASC?15 that the aircraft would be a cost-effective way to continue the “complementary” role of the U-2 with the RQ-4 Global Hawk because it could re-use the U-2S General Electric F414 engines, which have a lot of life left in them, as well as many of the U-2’s unique sensors and reconnaissance systems. What would be new, he said, is an airframe that would be stealthy enough to survive in heavily defended airspace. As it stands, the U-2S has enough structural life to serve until 2045, he said, but conditions will change long before then, requiring more survivability. The notional TR-X could also perform electronic warfare, communications node, and even laser attack missions. Winstead said a fleet of 25-30 airplanes would be sufficient to take over the duties now performed by 18 U-2s and 25 Global Hawks. The design would change, however, if the Air Force wants an aircraft able to fly at 90,000 feet. That, Winstead said, “would require new engines.” The notional design would have a longer airframe and somewhat larger wings and elevators than the U-2; it could be optionally manned, but more likely unmanned if USAF wants endurance of longer than 20-22 hours. The U-2S limit today—driven by the endurance of the pilot—is about 14 hours. Asked about prospects for a sale—given that the U-2 has been terminated and resurrected several times—Winstead said “the design will have to sell itself.” The notional name, TR-X, harkens back to when the U-2 was called the TR-1, and had a distinctly tactical mission. Lockheed sees a similar role for the jet in the future, Winstead noted.
Unlike nearly every other innovative technology throughout history, Maj. Gen. DeAnna M. Burt believes the space enterprise emerged backward. “Every other domain started with an entrepreneur who built something,” Burt, the special assistant to the Chief of Space Operations, told an audience at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference.