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"Dragon Lady"


The Air Force plans to keep the U-2 in service through the year 2020. The U-2A was initially currently powered by the 11,200-lb (5,080-kg) static thrust J57-P-37A engine, which was soon replaced by the U-2B's Pratt and Whitney J-75-13B engine, the engine that powered the F-105. The J-75, due to its age, was becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain and operate. Additionally, increased sensor weight and the J-75's high fuel consumption made it difficult to meet 24-hour coverage requirments in wartime taskings. The aircraft has been upgraded with a lighter, more powerful and more fuel-efficient engine (the General Electric F-118-101). The entire fleet was reengined by 1998. The new engine is cheaper to maintain making the U-2 a more cost effective and responsive reconnaissance platform.

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Druyun has directed that a new Defensive System for the U-2 by acquired using the new "Lighting Bolt" acquisition reform initiatives. The Acquisition decision Memorandum (ADM) directed that an ORD be ready for CSAF signature by 31 Dec 95, however, this was unrealistic. AFMC/CC has been designated as the Defense Acquisition Executive. The ADM also directed a preferred systems concept (PSC) be determined. DRF has requested ASC/RA to conduct a study to determine a PSC. The program consists of a reprogramable Radar Warning Receiver and Jammer capable of detecting and defeating modern threats, cockpit modifications to improve pilot situational awareness, and airframe Infra-Red (I/R) signature reduction. These modifications will greatly increase U-2 survivability, reduce dependence on HVAA and SEAD protection, and greatly increase a CINC's flexibility in employing the U-2.

In late spring 2000, the first two U-2s equipped with an updated electrical system and improved sensor capability arrived at Beale. Called Power EMI, these modified aircraft produce less electromagnetic interference - thus providing the platform for a new generation of highly sensitive intelligence gathering equipment. In addition, a new one-piece windscreen improves pilot cockpit visibility and reduce maintenance time. New training equipment and facilities at the 9th Physiological Support Squadron have improved Beale's ability to meet the physiological and training requirements for pilots. The first U-2 egress simulator was brought on line in June 2000. The simulator can produce smoke and be tilted to various angles to give pilots a better appreciation for an actual in-flight or ground emergency situation. U-2 maintainers working in the 99th Reconnaissance and 9th Maintenance squadrons are reaping the benefits of a focused maintenance commitment. Improved and updated technical orders, with the continued emphasis on Quality Assurance for the U-2s has improved reliability and the safety record. U-2 pilot training now includes advanced tactics and sensor training immediately following initial certification. This improvement gives pilots a vastly improved understanding of the threats they face on operational missions and the complexities of the communications architecture used to exploit U-2 intelligence products.

As of 1996 the "special" [aka SIGINT] sensors had not been upgraded since 1991 and were in several different configurations. The multi-sensor role of the aircraft was limited because the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar System (ASARS) and Senior Year Electro-optical Reconnaissance Systems (SYERS) sensors could not operate simultaneously. And because of older technologies and implementations, geolocation for precision strike targeting was insufficient for required operations.

Thus in 1996 the House Intelligence Committee directed a budget increase of $57 million for critical U-2 sensor upgrades. Of this amount, $10 million was for improving and downsizing the SYERS sensor such that SYERS and ASARS can be flown simultaneously, and to improve geolocational accuracies by adding a Global Positioning System that will superimpose geo-coordinates directly on collected images. The Committee directed that up to $7 million be used for the ASARS Improvement Program (AIP) to ensure this upgrade can be fielded by fiscal year 1998. The remainder of the funding was applied to SENIOR RUBY, SENIOR SPEAR, and SENIOR GLASS commonality upgrades. The Committee directed the Air Force to upgrade the SPEAR/RUBY sensors to the GLASS configuration, and upgrade the SENIOR GLASS systems to an open architecture configuration consistent with an architectural approach approved by the Defense Cryptologic Program manager.

The SENIOR YEAR Defensive System upgrades the U-2 aircraft to survive against current and expected threats and effectively meet growing intelligence requirements of the National Command Authority and warfighting CINCs. The initiative improves threat warning, RF countermeasures, and situation awareness capabilities. Provides group A wiring for all PAI U-2s plus 20 defensive systems with spares. Additionally all aircraft will receive I/R signature reduction and cockpit modifications. Growth provisions for IR warning and countermeasures are currently planned. Upgrades the 'BANDAID' defensive capability procured for the U-2 as a result of DESERT STORM operations. The U-2 operates in hostile territory within the engagement envelope of long range SAM and airborne interceptor threats. Currently the platform relies on limited on-board situational awareness, political factors, and the inherent protection of high altitude as its only means of defense. The changing technological and international political environments require the pilot to have greater situational awareness and a modern defensive system to continue to operate and survive. Without survivability upgrades, the U-2 must rely on limited CAP and SEAD air assets for protection or maintain stand-off orbits which significantly reduce its ability to collect intelligence information on critical targets. This initiative is migratable to the Tier 2+ Global Hawk UAV. In a response to Joint Staff request for command input on use of U-2 as a penetrator, all CINCs queried stated they intend to employ the U-2 as a penetrating reconnaissance aircraft in future conflicts and unanimously support the fielding of an advanced defensive system capability for the U-2.

The Power Distribution Backbone initiative installs a power distribution backbone which makes the increased electrical capacity available to the sensor payload. The U-2 reengining effort provided increased electrical capacity from 22 KVA to 36 KVA. The power distribution was initially part of the 'SENIOR SMART' program which was canceled in 1995. Advanced sensors currently in development require increased power to provide on-board processing and utilize additional capabilities. Failure to upgrade the power distribution will result in inability to conduct some simultaneous sensor operations and to fully utilize sensor capability. A related issue is rewiring and electro-magnetic interference improvements (U2007) to reduce the platform electrical emissions 'noise' floor and permit advanced sensors to receive and process intelligence signals to their full capability. Further savings can be realized by doing mod during PDM together with rewire and JPTS/JP-8 mods.

Rewire and Electro-Magnetic Interference Reduction efforts are intended to remove legacy wiring and cabling throughout the aircraft and replaces it with shielded, grounded, low emission copper and fiber optic wiring. Will take advantage of modern wiring technology to reduce weight and inherent electro-magnetic interference with on board systems. Block upgrade includes single piece windscreen and windscreen de-icer mod. As the U-2 avionics and sensor suites evolved, wiring was added to existing cables and harnesses until it became too expensive to identify and remove old wiring before new wiring was added. As a result, platform integrators have run out of space and weight to introduce wiring for new components. In addition, many of the old systems were grounded to the airframe. This initiative is required to lower the platform electrical emissions 'noise' floor and permit advanced sensors to receive and process new and developing high interest intelligence signals to the necessary degree. Windscreen changes greatly improve pilot visibility and maintenance access to the cockpit, reduce weight, and conserve power.

Conversion from JPTS to JP-8+100 converts aircraft fuel seals and adds fuel warmers and circulators to current fuel system to allow use of high-test JP-8 fuel rather than thermally stable fuel (JPTS) currently used. This initiative reduces fuel cost to nearly 1/2 of what is currently paid for JPTS. Reduces some special fuel storage and handling requirements at operating locations. Retrofitted aircraft are backwards compatible with JPTS. Further savings can be realized by doing mod during PDM together with rewire and power distribution mods.

The Full Motion Simulator provides a full motion simulator to allow realistic training in flight conditions that are impractical or hazardous to practice. Loss of 15% of the U-2 fleet in the last 5 years signaled the need for safety improvements to compensate for a less experienced pilot force. Many flight conditions in the U-2 such as high cross wind landings or heavy weight flame-out landings cannot be safely practiced in actual flight. The Air Force is awaiting for fidelity studies to determine whether simulation of the U-2's low level handling characteristics can be accurately portrayed.

The Angle of Attack Indicator (AOA), the 9th Reconnaissance Wing's first priority safety need, is a cockpit indicator which provides the pilot with a visual and audio warning of approach-to-stall. Because the U-2 operates very close to stall during most phases of flight, this tool will greatly increase pilot warning of an approaching stall. Lack of stall warning was indicated as a possible contributing factor to two of the last four U-2 mishaps. The AOA alerts the pilot to approach-to-stall during landings, takeoffs, and operations stages of flight. The U-2 has been termed by CSAF as the "most challenging of Air Force aircraft." It operates within 5 knots of stall speed through most phases of flight. It also performs unique maneuvers, such as low altitude angle of attack changes to release "auxiliary gear" (wing 'pogos'). Preferred contractor has agreed to provide prototype hardware for testing, however the Senior Year program does not have sufficient funds to conduct test flights or acquisition.

U-2 Oil Quantity Gauge provides a gauge within the cockpit to maintain pilot awareness of engine oil quantity remaining. Several instances have occurred where U-2s were found during post-flight inspections to be extremely low on oil. The U-2 System Safety Group reviewed the incidents and recommended installation of an oil quantity gauge. Little to no non-recurring engineering is required since the prototype U-2S aircraft was designed with an oil quantity gauge, but it was not included in the production program. The oil quantity guage is third priority on the 9th Reconnaissance Wing's list of safety issues.

The U-2 Crash Survivable Cockpit Data Recorder records aircraft systems data during flight to assist in mishap assessment after a crash. Other than four two-seat trainer aircraft, the U-2 is a single seat platform which often operates far from normal flight routes. The aircraft systems are extremely complex due to a wide array of sensor systems which interact with each other as well as some platform systems. The data recorder will be invaluable in identifying contributing causes after platform mishaps. The recorder is fourth on the 9th Reconnaissance Wing's Safety Priorities list.

U2 Life Support purchases initial issue and spare S-1034 space suit helmets, coveralls, gas retainer liners, and gloves, for U-2 high altitude operations to replace the no longer supportable S-1031 space suit. Also supports on-board life support and survival kits. Includes an SR-71 type oxygen line to the space suit which will greatly improve pilot comfort and safety. The space suit is necessary for high altitude operations which provide the U-2 both it's mission capability as well as its primary defense against hostile forces. The special survival kits are necessary for the high altitude environment and compensate for the space suited pilot's lack of mobility. A survival kit replacement is needed due to age and wear. The original kits were fabricated in 1967/1968 for the U-2R with additional kits fabricated in 1980/1981 for the TR-1. Money was saved over the years by using a four year overhaul interval instead of replacing kits. The basic components are quickly approaching the end of their serviceable life.) A recent Beale ORI levied a finding that U-2 pilots were being provided suits that did not provide chemical protection. According to the inspection report, this violated WMP, Annex S, Appendix 10, and could "result in loss of life/U-2 asset in wartime or degraded mission effectiveness."

The System Integration Laboratory (SIL) provides a ground electronic test bed of U-2 airframe and sensor systems to enable more thorough integration testing prior to flight testing. The U-2 has experienced significant flight test schedule overruns of one to 24 months for new and upgraded sensor and ground station integration, airframe improvement, discrepancy and mishap follow-ups, and ancillary equipment integration. The SIL could reduce flight testing by 20 to 30 percent. It would provide more visibility of software and hardware anomalies in systems and interfaces developed by more than 20 different providers. These anomalies might otherwise be hard to detect and/or isolate in an independent developer's test facility prior to flight testing. Even during flight testing the ability to monitor, adjust, and restart test routines is limited. Additionally, flight tests are limited by aircraft availability, flight/weather restraints, and conflicting test requirements.

Airborne Information Transmission System (ABIT) is the next generation of the Common Data Link, providing an extended wide band data link relay to move imagery and other intelligence information from collection platforms to ground stations and/or other airborne platforms anywhere in theater. It provides secure, selectable bandwidth, two way air-to-air-to-surface link with lop probability of detection/low probability of intercept. ABIT offers beyond line of sight range and improved timeliness for real time operations without further taxing already heavily used orbital communications systems. The U-2 is to be used as a test bed for the critical component miniaturization phase of the demonstration for later migration to UAVs.

U-2 UHF SATCOM would provide the U-2 with secure worldwide communications capability. It would also provide for U-2 participation in the Demand Assigned Multiple Access and Future Air Navigation System programs. The U-2S mission profile requires single pilot, single aircraft trans-oceanic flight, and operations far from normal flight routes. Neither current nor proposed UHF radios meet the size, weight, power, and performance requirements necessary to allow the U-2 to in the changing civil and military communications architectures. However, follow-on programs to the UHF DAMA SATCOM Airborne Integration Terminal appear to meet the required parameters. The U-2 previously received funding for beyond line of sight communications and is currently procuring the ARC 217 HF radio. The incumbent HF does not provide worldwide coverage, and UHF trans-oceanic air traffic control networks are not available until after 2000.

In March, 2016 Stephen Trimble, writing for Flight GLobal, reported that "Lockheed Martin planned to upgrade the U-2S a new capability that will not be easily matched by its designated unmanned successor. The Dragon Net upgrade planned for the U-2S fleet will equip the fleet with a beyond-line-of-sight communications relay capability for forward-deployed forces on the ground or in the air. The U-2S already uses a Dragon Fly modem that allow a soldier on the ground to relay full-motion video to another soldier miles away. That roughly matches the capability of the RQ-4 Block 20’s battlefield airborne communications node."

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® continued to evolve the U-2 Dragon Lady to support future battlespace needs under a 09 April 2020 contract award from the U.S. Air Force valued at $50 million. The contract includes the following upgrades to the Dragon Lady:

  • An updated avionics suite that modernizes the U-2’s onboard systems to readily accept and use new technology.
  • A new mission computer designed to the U.S. Air Force’s open mission systems (OMS) standard that enables the U-2 to integrate with systems across air, space, sea, land and cyber domains at disparate security levels.
  • New, modern cockpit displays to make everyday pilot tasks easier while enhancing presentation of the data the aircraft collects to enable faster, better informed decisions.

“As a proven, agile and reliable aircraft, the U-2S is the most capable high-altitude ISR system in the fleet today. The Avionics Tech Refresh contract will continue our commitment of providing a premier aircraft to our warfighters, ensuring global security now and into the future,” said Irene Helley, U-2 program director. Under this contract, Lockheed Martin will lead the design, integration and test of the new advanced aircraft components, which will enable the U-2 to be the first fully OMS-compliant fleet. Interim fielding was anticipated to begin in mid-2021, with fleet modification expected in early 2022.

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Page last modified: 15-06-2021 16:09:49 ZULU