Does the USAF have a secret ISR/Strike jet in development at Groom Lake?

Is there a stealthy intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)/strike aircraft secretly under development at the US Air Force’s facility in Groom Lake, Nevada?

It’s hard to say for sure–and to be perfectly frank, I don’t know. But there have been rumors (which I’ve mentioned before in passing here on DEW Line) flying around about some sort of secret stealth ISR/Strike aircraft being built by Northrop Grumman (But I’ve also heard it could be someone else… Lockheed or Boeing are possibilities) that’s being tested at Groom Lake. Just recently, fellow defense aerospace scribe, the esteemed Bill Sweetman–who has been covering the black world for a very, very long time–mentioned such a program in this piece he wrote. Read Bill’s story here…

northrop_grumman_NGB_bomber.jpgSo the common elements of the various rumors are that it is a fairly large stealth aircraft–with a wingspan roughly comparable to a Boeing 737 (or Global Hawk as Bill says). The planform is supposedly a flying wing design, possibly similar in concept to Northrop’s X-47B. Allegedly, it has weapons bays to hold a fairly substantial payload and it has all of your various ISR sensors installed. Supposedly, it has either a single engine or multiple… If it’s a very long range aircraft, might make sense to have the redundancy of a twin engine configuration. If any of it is true is, of course, open to debate.  

Depending on who is telling the story, this alleged secret aircraft is either manned or unmanned. I suppose it could be optionally manned. It would make sense if this aircraft was designed to operate inside heavily defended airspace–given that maintaining control (not to mention getting the reams of data back to the Distributed Common Ground Station for analysis) of an unmanned aircraft inside a communications degraded/communications denied environment is a problem that the Defense Department continues to wrestle with. The USAF’s aspiration for its Long Range Strike Bomber is for it to be optionally manned…

Anyways, these are all just rumors. Nothing solid–the only concrete evidence that suggests this thing might exist is that I’ve seen some Google satellite imagery showing some new hangars that could hold such a craft at Groom Lake. I suppose–and it is supposition–that it could be for some sort of test bed.

But developing an aircraft in complete secrecy is not unprecedented. There were a couple of operational squadrons of Lockheed Martin F-117 operating in secret in Tonopah, Nevada, for more than decade before anyone knew for sure they existed. A more recent example is the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 unmanned aircraft…

I’ve been chasing this particular wild goose for three years, and it could be complete hogwash. But who knows? 061027-F-0974S-080V2.jpg

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