The secret to a spyplane's eternal youth is a new suite of gadgets installed on a classic chassis.
- By William E. Burrows
- Air & Space magazine, March 2005
Denny Lombard/Lockheed Martin
(Page 4 of 6)
The signals intelligence systems include Senior Ruby, which monitors radar emissions; Senior Spear, which eavesdrops on communication traffic; and Senior Glass, which gathers signals intelligence and the capabilities of which are still classified. They are carried in the two super pods.
The U-2S also has what Mitchell calls a “superlative” new defensive system. It is the AN/ALQ-221, which listens for threats, displays them, and then automatically employs the appropriate countermeasures, including transmissions that confuse the attacker. All the pilot has to do is turn it on.
The U-2S is equipped to know when it is being tracked on radar and infrared sensors on hostile aircraft or, more likely, surface-to-air missiles. Radar relies on accurate timing, and most countermeasures work to corrupt that timing dependence. The aircraft also have the capability to reduce their heat signatures, as well as systems to defend against an infrared-seeking missile. And the Air Force is experimenting with a communication intercept system that would not only pick up attacking pilots talking to one another but would almost immediately transmit messages to confuse the pilots—in their own voices. It will almost certainly go in the U-2S.
The sensors are interconnected and redundant—they back one another up. For example, the radar and the infrared optics can produce a single image, and instead of all the airplane’s avionic systems and sensors running on separate cables and connectors, a data bus similar to the network cable connection for a group of personal computers routes signals to the appropriate sensors. And it can even send them to a backup if the primary one is inoperative.
The close integration of all the electronics makes the U-2S an unprecedented intelligence collector, but so many sensitive electronics can also bite one another in new ways.
Discussion of the U-2S’s signals intelligence capabilities—what and how sensitive they are—is carefully guarded by the military. The radio monitoring system has high-frequency, very-high-frequency, and ultra-high-frequency bands that pick up transmissions with an antenna farm that sprouts from the belly of the aircraft. Their sensitivity can be inferred by the fact that as new systems are added the existing ones can interfere with them, and even the wiring that moves data around the aircraft can reduce the quality of what they collect.
“What will a new sensor do to the other systems?” Jim Kaplan, Lockheed’s mission systems senior manager, wonders aloud. The wiring that carries electrical power creates enough electromagnetic noise to degrade the intelligence. Some of the systems can interfere with their own mission, but the U-2S is supposed to pick up signals, not listen to its own wheezing.
So with Block 10, the Power/Electro-Magnetic Interference Program, every aircraft is completely rewired with shielded, grounded, low-emission copper, fiber optic, and other cables. And the word “power” means providing enough electrical generators to carry out current missions while having enough in reserve for the future without having to rewire yet again.