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USAF explores cloaking device for tankers

The US Air Force will next month unveil the results of a study into survivability gaps on its fleet of tankers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, the service’s head of Air Mobility Command (AMC) says.

The recently completed high-value airborne asset research activity identified survivability gaps on existing tankers, plus Boeing E-3 airborne warning and control system and Northrop Grumman E-8C joint surveillance target attack radar system aircraft.

AMC chief Gen Carlton Everhart has previously discussed a "cloaking" capability for the USAF’s next-generation KC-Z tanker, which would allow the aircraft to fend off adversaries by manipulating its radar signature. This process would involve taking radiant energy from a radar and diffusing it to disguise a tanker or airlifter's outline, he says.

Speaking at the Air Force Association's annual convention, Everhart says: “It’s not as simple as I think it is. If you get one electron out, you just identified yourself to the adversary.”

Everhart has not commented on whether the USAF will release a request for information linked to the so-called cloaking capability, but confirms that he discussed the concept with industry on the floor of the Air, Space and Cyber conference.

Meanwhile, the commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Centre reveals that the Air Combat Command is discussing fielding a defensive laser weapon on an air mobility aircraft, rather than a downward-looking weapon. The laser and cloaking defences are not at odds with each other, and air mobility will take whichever technology can be fielded first, Everhart says.

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