US Air Force to stop operating Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft

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US Air Force to stop operating Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft


In 1956, the Central Intelligence Agency and the US Air Force began operating the latest Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. Despite its great age, a certain amount of such equipment is still in service and is used to solve various problems. However, in the coming years, the Pentagon plans to abandon these aircraft. Whether they will receive a direct replacement has not yet been reported.



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Lockheed developed the U-2 aircraft in the mid-fifties. In 1955, the first flight took place, and just a few months later, mass production of equipment for the CIA and the Air Force started. U-2s were produced until the end of the eighties, and by this time more than 100 aircraft had been delivered to customers. As operation and production continued, new modifications were developed with certain features.

The CIA operated U-2 aircraft until the mid-seventies. They were abandoned because of the unacceptably high risks associated with the air defense of a potential enemy, as well as in connection with the emergence of a new generation of reconnaissance satellites. The Air Force, in turn, continued to use the existing aircraft. However, as the operation continued, the number of U-2s in service was gradually reduced for objective reasons.


According to open sources, at the moment the US Air Force has only two squadrons on aircraft of the latest U-2S modification. Only 26 of these aircraft remain in stock. In addition, one of the training units has 4 TU-2S training aircraft.

U-2S aircraft are capable of carrying a developed set of optical and electronic equipment for conducting various kinds of reconnaissance. They regularly fly on different routes, but the details of such use remain unknown. However, some episodes still become public. So, in early February, one of the U-2S followed a Chinese balloon flying over US territory.

Plans for the future


On March 13, the US Department of the Air Force published a budget request for the next fiscal year, which will now be included in the draft new military budget. The agency has determined the required level of spending for FY2024, and also disclosed part of the plans for the distant future. In such plans, there was a place for reconnaissance aircraft U-2S - but not the best and optimistic.

The Air Force leadership considers the U-2 aircraft morally and physically obsolete, and therefore their further operation is inappropriate. It is proposed to write off the existing fleet of 30 reconnaissance and training aircraft. The cuts will begin as early as next fiscal year, with the last U-2S to be retired in FY2026.


Recall that the operation of the first version of the U-2 began in 1956, and the last aircraft will finish work in 2026. This means that the reconnaissance aircraft will be able to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its service before decommissioning. Thus, we are talking about a record length of service, both in the US Air Force and in world practice.

aerial platform


Typically, the US Air Force begins to write off obsolete aircraft only after a sufficient fleet of new equipment has been formed to replace them. However, U-2 is an exception. Direct analogues of this aircraft, capable of taking its place, were not developed. In this regard, the tasks of the decommissioned U-2s will be transferred to aviation complexes of other classes. Unmanned aerial vehicles are considered in this role, however, it seems that there is no talk of an equal replacement.

The record service life of the U-2 is due to several factors. First of all, this aircraft turned out to be a successful platform with high flight performance, capable of carrying various payloads in the form of various instruments.

The aircraft of the latest U-2S modification with a take-off weight of up to 18,15 tons carries 2,3 tons of payload. The required instruments are placed in the corresponding compartments of the fuselage and in containers under the wing. With the help of a General Electric F118-101 turbojet engine, the aircraft develops a speed of more than 760 km / h and shows a range of more than 11 thousand km. The practical ceiling reaches 24 km.


At different times and in different missions, U-2S carried photo and video cameras, side-looking radars, electronic intelligence equipment, etc. Reconnaissance devices of the latest generations are distinguished by high performance, and the high-altitude subsonic platform makes it possible to fully use their capabilities.

Replacement problem


Several types of heavy UAVs are being proposed as replacements for decommissioned U-2 aircraft. In this case, an equivalent replacement will not work. Existing and prospective Drones American designs are inferior to the old aircraft in one way or another, and also face various restrictions.

For example, the largest and heaviest UAV in service with the Air Force is the RQ-4 Global Hawk from Northrop Grumman. The maximum takeoff weight of this aircraft exceeds 14,6 tons, which, in particular, provides a large supply of fuel and allows you to stay in the air for hours. However, the RQ-4 carries only 1360 kg of payload. In addition, the flight speed is limited to 630 km / h, and the ceiling does not exceed 18 km. In fact, the Global Hawk is inferior to the old U-2 in a number of basic parameters, and the existing advantages are not fundamental.

As a possible analogue and / or replacement for the U-2, it is also proposed to consider the Nortrop Grumman RQ-180 UAV, which is currently being tested. However, not much is known about this development yet, and the available data do not show clear advantages over a manned reconnaissance aircraft. It is assumed that the flight characteristics of the RQ-180 will be similar to the current RQ-4. At the same time, it will be distinguished by stealth and will be able to carry a heavier load. Indicators of speed and flight altitude remain unknown.


It is quite possible that the RQ-180 will eventually become a direct replacement for the existing U-2S. Also, it cannot be ruled out that the presented schedule for the decommissioning of aircraft will be synchronized with the supply of new UAVs. In this case, the intelligence component of the US Air Force will not only not lose the existing operational capabilities, but will probably improve them. Of course, if the real RQ-180 matches current estimates and forecasts.

End of an era


Thus, the US Air Force decided to end the operation of one of its most famous aircraft. U-2 of the latest series and modifications will still have time to celebrate the next round anniversary of the start of service, but after that they will be decommissioned due to complete moral and physical obsolescence.

What will happen next with the Air Force reconnaissance aircraft fleet is not yet completely clear. This direction is being transferred to unmanned systems of various types, but it is not known which of them will replace the U-2 aircraft. At the same time, all available and known samples are inferior to it in terms of basic characteristics and do not have decisive advantages. How the US Air Force is going to deal with such a situation, time will tell.
34 comments
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  1. +11
    18 March 2023 05: 24
    The article does not make a very favorable impression, a lot of unnecessary water and repetition. The same could be stated in a publication half as large. Regarding this:
    the operation of the first version of the U-2 began in 1956, and the last aircraft will finish work in 2026.
    It should be understood that the U-2s currently flying are fundamentally different from the aircraft that appeared in the late 50s in terms of avionics and reconnaissance equipment. They will, of course, be replaced by heavy high-altitude drones, the Americans have such an opportunity. Already, the Global Hawk UAV fleet is used on a much larger scale than the U-2 manned reconnaissance aircraft.
    1. +5
      18 March 2023 10: 18
      Quote: Tucan
      Already, the Global Hawk UAV fleet is used on a much larger scale than the U-2 manned reconnaissance aircraft.

      The article also forgot about the RQ-170.
    2. +4
      18 March 2023 18: 29
      The article does not make a very favorable impression, a lot of unnecessary water

      This is the "signature" style of the author. Don't drink it.
      I'm not sure that there is a living person.
      Neural network and 2-3 blockheads of the paper scribbler.
      that the U-2s currently flying are fundamentally different from the aircraft that appeared in the late 50s

      Kelly Johnson and Lockheed Skunk Works, the original U-2A first flew in August 1955
      The U-2R, which first flew in 1967, was 40% more instrumented and more powerful than the original aircraft. The tactical reconnaissance version of the TR-1A first flew in August 1981 and was structurally identical to the U-2R.
      In 1992, all TR-1s and U-2s were designated U-2Rs.
      When the GE F118-101 engine was delivered, which led to the renaming of all Air Force U-2 aircraft to U-2S.
      The U-2S Block 10 has replaced legacy wiring with advanced fiber optic technology and reduced the overall electronic noise signature to provide a quieter platform for the latest generation of sensors.
  2. 0
    18 March 2023 05: 24
    The snag is of course rare .. But wait, you have become one of the most famous aircraft in the world
    1. +6
      18 March 2023 06: 44
      Quote from ishinmaikl
      The snag is of course rare .. But wait, you have become one of the most famous aircraft in the world

      The appearance and design of the U-2 is associated with the desire to realize the necessary flight data, which was impossible to do in any other way in the 50s.
    2. +10
      18 March 2023 06: 58
      Not a "snag", but designed for special flight conditions. Nobody canceled aerodynamics. If Soviet designers had given a similar task, it would have turned out similar.
      And since it has been flying for 60 years, it means that overseas designers have completed the task well! hi hi
      1. -3
        18 March 2023 07: 20
        Well, it turned out to be a snag anyway))
        1. 0
          18 March 2023 14: 03
          The problem is low maneuverability, but in modern conditions it is not necessary. Must barrage outside the enemy air defense zone.
          1. +2
            18 March 2023 19: 43
            The problem is low maneuverability

            Give a pity la with a cruising altitude of 20-24 km and a duration of patrol (a barrel of fuel) having a "high" maneuverability?
            Stupidity please speak
      2. +4
        18 March 2023 11: 01
        Quote: fa2998
        .Soviet designers would have given a similar task
        Soviet designers received a similar task - they got the M-55 "Geophysics" and the M-17 "Stratosphere"
        1. +2
          18 March 2023 14: 57
          Quote: bk0010
          got M-55 "Geophysics" and M-17 "Stratosphere"

          They are for intercepting high-altitude reconnaissance balloons.
          Recently there was an article on VO.
          1. -2
            18 March 2023 17: 03
            Quote: bk0010
            Soviet designers received a similar task - they got the M-55 "Geophysics" and the M-17 "Stratosphere"
            By the way, before that, they studied the remains of a U-2 shot down near Sverdlovsk. Including found out that the wing profile of the U-2 aircraft is designed for a height of 20 km, no matter what they write in the documentation. Therefore, it is not clear to me personally where 24 km came from in the "practical ceiling" column in the article.
            1. +1
              18 March 2023 19: 55
              Including found out that the wing profile of the U-2 aircraft is designed for a height of 20 km, no matter what they write in the documentation.

              In addition to the wing, the mass and density of the atmosphere (humidity, temperature) and fuel are also important.
              Mach 0,715 (412 kn; 470 mph; 760 km/h) at 72 ft (000 m)
              Service ceiling: 80,000 ft (24,000 m) plus
              For JP-8+100LT
              (JP-8+100LT: A LOW COST REPLACEMENT OF JPTS AS THE PRIMARY FUEL FOR THE U-2 AIRCRAFT)
              In November 1998, NASA's ER-2 set a world horizontal flight altitude record of 20 m for vehicles weighing between 479 and 12 tons.
              Q Corner also studied?
              The lifting force of the wings is so great that when landing, an “air cushion” occurs even at minimum speed. Because of this, the pilot is forced to actually stall and drop the aircraft onto the runway from a height of more than 0,5 m.
              Moreover, the U-2A is not a U-2R: the upgraded airframe is enlarged by almost 30 percent due to underwing blocks and increased fuel capacity.
              https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/unlimited-horizons.pdf
          2. 0
            18 March 2023 18: 19
            so the irony is that the old U-2 is precisely for intercepting high-altitude Chinese balloons and may be in demand in the 2020s!
      3. Alf
        0
        18 March 2023 18: 32
        Quote: fa2998
        If Soviet designers had given a similar task, it would have turned out similar.

        1. 0
          18 March 2023 20: 28
          And that doesn't count? Weak against the U-2 turned out, but they tried.
      4. 0
        18 March 2023 23: 27
        So it seems to have happened - M-17 and M-55
    3. +1
      18 March 2023 18: 30
      Snag is certainly rare.

      You don't have taste... Aerodynamic precisely
  3. +2
    18 March 2023 06: 12
    Colonel-General of Aviation Yevgeny Savitsky, Commander of Fighter Aviation, soon arrived from Moscow with a group of specialists. Muscovites had a long talk with the pilot, analyzed the data. The result of the commission's work puzzled the entire regiment - the observations of the pilot rising to intercept the "invisible" were questioned. Savitsky said: the pilot invented that he observed the target during the ascent, they say, he wanted to distinguish himself, to earn an award. The impression was that the commission had a strong confidence - there are no such planes that could stay at an altitude of 20.000 meters for several hours... "
    (http://www.airwar.ru/history/locwar/xussr/u2/u2.html)

    As it was sung in the once famous song:
    "It's good to be a general, it's good to be a general..."
    1. 0
      18 March 2023 06: 21
      Quote: Amateur
      the pilot invented that he observed the target during the ascent,

      So he flew until they hit him with a rocket ....
    2. +2
      18 March 2023 15: 24
      Savitsky said: the pilot invented that he observed the target during the ascent, they say, he wanted to distinguish himself, to earn an award.
      This is the same Savitsky, who, following the results of the Korean War, demanded that we launch the production of captured F-86s (Saber) instead of MiG-15 modifications
      1. 0
        19 March 2023 23: 55
        This is the same Savitsky

        Is this the father of the last cosmonaut of the USSR?
  4. +5
    18 March 2023 14: 00
    The machine is absolutely ingenious, although it has a number of shortcomings.
    Amazing aerodynamics. In modern conditions, it is possible to create an analogue with a wide use of composites, a more economical engine. This will allow, first of all, to increase the relative elongation of the wing, reduce the mass of the structure and increase the amount of kerosene.
    If it is made like an UAV, then this is still a noticeable savings in the mass of the structure. No need for a pilot, life support systems, cockpit...
    Tupolevs have a lot to think about.
    1. 0
      18 March 2023 17: 34
      Quote: Rumata
      The car is absolutely brilliant...
      Been reading for a long time:
      The roots of the U-2 design come from the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. Designer Kelly Johnson took his own fighter (F-104) as a basis and designed the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft on its basis.

      Correct if I am mistaken.
      1. Alf
        +1
        18 March 2023 18: 38
        Quote: Bad_gr
        Correct if I am mistaken.

        What was taken as a basis? The wing is different, the engine is different ... Yes, and the philosophy is completely different - High, far, slow.
      2. +1
        18 March 2023 18: 49
        In a sense, it is.
        The fuselage of the F-104 was taken as the basis, although it had to be significantly expanded compared to the original design, but the F-104 technologies were largely retained. True, the hydraulic canopy mechanism and the ejection seat fell victim to the need to save weight. It was decided that the pilot would not survive an ejection at the altitudes at which the aircraft was supposed to operate.
        50s!
    2. +2
      19 March 2023 00: 11
      In modern conditions, it is possible to create an analogue with a wide use of composites, a more economical engine.


      Yes Easy. Moreover, it is also relatively (compared to U-2) cheap.
      In modern conditions, just for fun and advertising, they built the "GlobalFlyer", which flew around the earth without landing and refueling, at an average height of 12 km and a speed of 550 km / h.
      The plane has a dry weight of 1.7 tons, and takes 11 tons of fuel!
  5. +5
    18 March 2023 14: 41
    US Air Force to stop operating Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft

    The US Air Force will cease operating the Lockheed U-2 from 2021. But they won't stop. It seems to be as outdated, but there is no worthy replacement yet. Therefore, all sorts of categorical statements, such as the author of the article - this is - with a pitchfork on the water. If by 2026 the Air Force does not receive a worthy, in their opinion, replacement, the issue may be reviewed once again. Everything else is the author's verbiage.
  6. +1
    19 March 2023 01: 04
    History knows many cases of hopelessly obsolete, obsolete and finally obsolete. But so, to the end, and not obsolete. Because this “obsolete” turns out to be the best option used, despite, it seems, the emergence of a newer and more perfect one. Something similar is the case with the aforementioned "Lady Dragon", which has been in operation for almost 70 years and, having undergone repeated modifications, is still in operation. U - 2, despite a lot of shortcomings (a bicycle chassis, the complexity of control during takeoff - landing, etc.), survived in the ranks after the loss of 30 units of the same type of vehicles (of which 6 were combat, including the infamous F. Powers), equally how did he survive the famous “Blackbird” (SR - 71) that came to replace him, who generally avoided combat losses in his entire shorter history.
  7. +1
    20 March 2023 09: 58
    Recall that the operation of the first version of the U-2 began in 1956, and the last aircraft will finish work in 2026. This means that the reconnaissance aircraft will be able to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its service before decommissioning. Thus, we are talking about a record length of service, both in the US Air Force and in world practice.

    For scouts - perhaps a record. But the absolute record for the duration of service is still this one American military symbol:

    First flight - 1952. Last released - 1962. Planned date of write-off - for now 2050 (unless, of course, the Air Force once again not move it to the right).
    If nothing changes, then "half a second" will survive both strategists who were planned to replace him - both B-1 and B-2. smile
    1. 0
      15 May 2023 03: 34
      Have you made 10 pieces in 750 years? And since 1962 no copper has been oxidized. Not mice? Sags know how to throw dust in the eyes of fools. And fools believe
  8. -1
    April 23 2023 11: 24
    How many U-2s were shot down over Cuba and China?
  9. 0
    15 May 2023 03: 24
    Over the past 30 years, so many generals and Kremlin officials have fled abroad. What the hell are airplanes? And if they keep silent about something, then the alkynes and galkins will tell.
  10. 0
    22 May 2023 10: 33
    Quote: megavolt823
    And since 1962 no copper has been oxidized.

    Wonderful miracle. How tools of the Bronze Age lie in the ground for a thousand years is not at all clear. Archaeologists are also probably fooling people - but everyone believes.