The Dragon Lady has survived yet another defense budget review. Although its future was examined as the Pentagon crafted the FY2021 request, the program survived intact. Instead, all 20 of the Global Hawk Block 30s that serve alongside the U-2 at Beale, were dumped. Ten Block 40 versions of the UAV based at Grand Forks are being retained.
“This budget request prioritizes ISR capabilities that are more adaptable, more survivable, and less manpower-intensive,” explained US Air Force budget official Maj Gen John Pletcher. For years, this website has been saying exactly that, when discussing the relative merits of the U-2 versus the Global Hawk. I also covered these issues in detail in my book DRAGON LADY TODAY.
A total of $293.7 million is requested for U-2 modifications over FY2021-2025. The mods continue sustainment and enhancement efforts that began in earlier years and have been reported here, including to the avionics, datalinks, ejection seat, electronic warfare system (ALQ-221), helmet and pressure suit; mission planning, navigation systems, and SIGINT system (ASIP). They result in the aircraft’s Block Number changing to Block 20-1.
Separately, introduction of the ASARS-2B sensor with its active antenna and new receiver/exciter continues, albeit at a slow pace. The demonstration of a prototype ended over a year ago, but the first two production sensors are not due for flight testing until early in FY2022. The Initial Operating Capability (IOC) is due in FY2023. The ASARS-2B program is costing $177 million over the five years FY2021-2025. The new processor (ASARS-2C) gets its first funding in FY2021.
Meanwhile, flight testing of the SYERS-2C version of the Dragon Lady’s electro-optical multispectral sensor has been completed. This version increases the coverage to ten bands and provides increased optical performance and highly accurate long-range tracking. The maker, Collins Aerospace Systems (formerly UTA Aerospace Systems and before that Goodrich), said that SYERS-2C provides “unmatched ability to find, track and assess moving and stationary targets. Developed with open mission systems standards to enable command, control and data exchange with fifth generation platforms, the sensor has become a critical asset to theater commanders bringing unique advantages to joint operations across the battlespace.”
(updated 8 April to amend U-2 modifications total and the ASARS-2B program cost; correct the timeframes to FY2021-2025; add the ASARS-2C development; and add the Block number change).