The US Defense Department’s Strategic Capabilities Office is still weighing platform options for its Arsenal Plane concept, a standoff system with a large weapons carriage that would support forward aircraft.
Last year, the US Air Force revealed an artist’s rendering of the arsenal plane which depicted an aircraft with an eight-engined Boeing B-52 bomber wing and a Lockheed Martin C-130 turboprop fuselage. But during a rare media opportunity this week, SCO director William Roper told reporters the office and the USAF have not announced the type of aircraft for the project.
“It's not until we start doing the engineering of trying to make it an Arsenal Plane that we’ll find out which ones do the best job,” Roper says. “But what we believe is looking across all the assets we have that we’re very likely to have a system that will be able to do the job.”
Once the SCO picks the platform to fulfill the Arsenal Plane’s mission, the office could unveil the system to the public. For now, the defense secretary is holding off, Roper says. He also clarified that the Arsenal Plane project is not linked with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Gremlins concept, which would release swarms of UAVs from an aircraft and retrieve them with a C-130.
“But you could imagine in the future if you had an Arsenal Plane there would be a lot of things in its arsenal that it could be used for,” he says.
While the SCO remained coy about its plans for the Arsenal Plane, the USAF has revealed some of the capabilities and challenges ahead as it evaluates the system. In its 2030 Air Superiority Flight Plan, the USAF’s Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team mentions plans to examine the long-range aircraft.
In a recent interview with FlightGlobal, Brig Gen Alexus Grynkewich, team lead for the 2030 air superiority study, says he sees the Arsenal Plane as a large platform with a heavy payload and varying applications. The aircraft would not need to be manoeuvrable or stealthy because its long-range would ensure its survival, he says. However, he also foresees some technical challenges, such as pulling together the long-range kill chain.
“An Arsenal Plane is something that’s large, long-range, not very manoeuvrable, [with] very long weapons and because it has very long weapons it either needs very exquisite sensors feeding it on that particular platform so that it can cue those weapons to where they need to go,” Grynkewich says. “The arsenal plane itself might not need the sensors, maybe the sensors are on the F-22 or the F-35 or from some other node that feeds back, but somehow it’s got to get a cue of how to shoot that long range weapon is my point.”