Still on Fire

The Air Force’s fleet of high-flying U-2 Dragon Lady reconnaissance aircraft has proved to be such an invaluable tool in fighting the counterinsurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq that there is no rush to retire these venerable Cold War platforms until their successors, RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, are firmly in place with no drop off in capability. Stars and Stripes reported Wednesday that U-2s now give direct tactical support to ground troops, delivering battlefield pictures and eavesdropping electronically, two missions no single unmanned platform can pull off today. While a later Global Hawk variant, the Block 30, is designed to do both, it is just entering the inventory and needs to be retrofitted with its SIGINT package. These Global Hawks are scheduled to arrive in the war zone next year. Once they have proved themselves in this role, then—and only then—will U-2s be phased out.