Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/09/12/super_robot_stealth_raygun_cyberbomber/

Northrop offer supersonic robot stealth raygun cyber-bomber

Bells and whistles cupboard emptied in one

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 12th September 2008 08:53 GMT

American aerospace colossus Northrop Grumman has called for the US air force to purchase a hundred-strong fleet of enormous aerial stealth raiders, able to direct "netted wolfpacks" of flying kill-robots and packing "cyber warfare tools" capable of "attacking enemy information nodes". The proposed Next Generation Long Range System (NGLRS) cyberbomber is also, of course, thought likely to mount some kind of raygun.

The argument in favour of a new American superplane is made by two former US air force colonels now working as strategy-eggheads/marketeers for Northrop, Robert Haffa and Michael Isherwood. The two men have written a paper called The 2018 Bomber, which is flagged up by veteran aerospace analyst and secret-plane expert Bill Sweetman at Aviation Week.

Haffa and Isherwood say that present-day B-2 stealth bombers are old hat, and anyway there just aren't enough of them for America to truly bomb the dickens out of countries in possession of modern "double digit"* Russian air-defence missiles. They also argue that the tendency for today's strike aircraft to act more or less as flying artillery - hanging about in the sky hitting targets as required, rather than taking off with a specific objective in mind - calls for a big plane with lots of bombs in it able to lurk overhead for a long time.

So far, so boring. Not exactly the kind of mad new technology one has come to expect from the US weaponry complex. But then the two salesman-wonks start to liven things up a bit. This won't just be an ordinary bomber, but a sort of flying combo mega-WiFi hotspot and cyber weapon.

The NGLRS will also be built with an open system information technology architecture ... The NGLRS will be designed to accommodate and integrate information from a networked information enterprise that includes downlinks from space systems ... in 2007, [current Raptor superfighters] provided an equivalent of an airborne “local area network” during the NORTHERN EDGE exercise in Alaska. The NGLRS, with its greater power capacity, can be employed over a larger area and create an airborne “wide area network” to expand the information flow ... the 2018 bomber will have the size and electrical capacity to provide options for non-kinetic, cyber operations ... passive electromagnetic surveillance sensors will allow it to identify and locate signals ... the bomber’s larger antenna and greater electrical power promise improved range and capability ... Information Operations capabilities will also be integrated [providing] persistent means to sever improvised explosive device communication links, monitor an enemy’s communications, or conduct similar electronic warfare operations ...

This kind of airborne network warfare is said to have been key to the mysterious US-assisted Israeli air raid against Syria last year. It has been said that "computer to computer" techniques and "air-to-ground network penetration" methods allowed parts of the Syrian air defences to be remotely shut down, spoofed, jammed or hacked on that occasion.

Needless to say, the new cyber bomber would also be able to deploy a fearful panoply of meatspace missiles or smart bombs, up to and including the deep-bunker busting fifteen tonne Massive Ordnance Penetrator.

It would also be able to act as the command ship for an air/ground robot armada, perhaps including the US Navy's planned robot strike fighters, reconnaissance drones, cruise missiles and whatnot.

There is a real opportunity for NGLRS and [upcoming unmanned stealth fighters] to operate in unison, collaboratively finding and fixing targets then sharing them ... the netted “wolfpack” could extend to non-airborne weapon systems ... This “netting” of systems allows rapid transmission of intelligence and targeting data, reducing the kill chain.

As first delivered, the cyber bomber would have stealth - possibly "fourth generation" or "ultra" stealth, as opposed to the measly Stealth 2.0 found on today's B-2. The NGLRS would start out boringly subsonic and human-crewed, but "upgrades might lead to supersonic and unmanned variants" according to Haffa and Isherwood.

But a mere supersonic, uncrewed stealth cyberbomber doesn't satisfy Bill Sweetman of Aviation Week. He is of the opinion that Northrop is already building a secret, or "black" prototype along these general lines, and he reckons that the uberplane would also need to feature a directed-energy weapon - a raygun - for the purpose of knocking down or blinding those pesky double-digit missiles. He asked Isherwood, presenting the Northrop paper, about that possibility:

Today's laser-based infra-red countermeasures (IRCM) systems can blind an IR-homing missile; tomorrow's [rayguns] will be powerful enough to negate a radar-guided missile, Isherwood says ...

Which seems to be everything you could possibly ask for - a robotic wolfpack-leading supersonic stealth cyberbomber, with a frikkin laser on it. And/or a possible electropulse cannon for the radar missiles, although American boffins are already working on ways to make radars electropulse proof.

So - how much would one of these babies cost, exactly?

Haffa and Isherwood, like all good salesmen of big-ticket items, are reluctant to talk price too soon. Indeed, they even admit that Boeing and Lockheed together might be able to put together an NGLRS contender to rival theirs - the US airmen don't have to buy it from Northrop. Provided the air force orders enough planes to get a discount, they breezily say that "the NGLRS should be affordable". ®

* That is SA-10 and later weapons, as opposed to antique SA-5s, SA-7s etc.