Modernization of Air Warfare


Thesis: Military aircraft has become more sophisticated in 
variety, effectiveness in war situations, and special 
maneuvering techniques in recent years. 

 Military aircraft has become more sophisticated in 
variety, effectiveness in war situations, and special 
maneuvering techniques in recent years. With the advance of
stealth technology, many new and very effective aircraft 
have been developed. The F-117A was used during Operation 
Dessert Storm and every plane came back without a scratch. 
The very expensive B-2 stealth bomber has never been used in 
actual war, but during testing it was a success. The 
Advanced Tactical Fighter program was started to make an 
aircraft that could supercruise, the ability to cruise at 
supersonic speeds, and didn't cost very much. The YF-22 and 
YF-23 were the first planes to accomplish this. With all the 
planes we know of, there are also top secret programs 
probably going on right now. A new fighter that has never 
been heard of before has been spotted. As John Welch, the 
assistant secretary of Air Force said, "Stealth gives us 
back that fundamental element of war called surprise" 
(Goodall 9). 

 After it was found that aircraft could be very 
useful in war, it was used for large scale reconnaissance. 
Then people started to add bombs to aircraft and then 
airplanes started to become an essence of war. After World 
War 2, new bombers were developed with fast speed, and could 
travel far distances. They could also carry nuclear bombs 
and missiles. The use of the bomber aircraft then led to the 
fighter, which was equipped with guns and missiles. 
Helicopters were also found to be good strike aircraft. They 
were armed with cannons, machine guns, rockets, torpedoes, 
and a variety of missiles. Vertical takeoff made the 
helicopter an advantage. 

 The first flight of the F-117A was in June of 1981 
in Groom Lake test facility. The total cost for the 
development of the F-117A was just under two billion 
dollars, but it only cost $43 million to make each plane. It 
became operational in October of 1983 and was the first 
operational stealth aircraft ever built. The F-117A is a 
night attack plane powered by two, nonafterburning General 
Electric engines. F-117As were designed for first-strike 
capabilities and to be able to fly into any countries 
airspace undetected. The primary task of the F-117A is to 
break through enemy airspace, destroy high value targets, 
and return back unharmed. They were considered to first be 
used in several different tasks, but weren't used until 
Operation Dessert Storm where they did an excellent job. As 
Donald Rice, Secretary of the Air Force, said, "Everyone now 
agrees the F-117 was a real bargain" (9).

 During Operation Dessert Storm the F-117As were 
found out to be very successful. The war began on January 
16, 1991 when the F-117A fighters entered the Iraqi airspace 
on their way to downtown Baghdad. There were 43 of them over 
the skies of Iraq and not one was lost even though they went 
against one of the most modern air-defense systems in the 
world. Operation Dessert Storm was the largest aerial 
bombing attack in war history. It was also the first time a 
stealth aircraft was used as a main weapon. On the first day 
of Dessert Storm the Lockheed F-117As dropped sixty-two 
2,000 pound bombs on Baghdad destroying the most critical 
targets of the Iraqi military, including the headquarters of 
the Iraqi air force. "We've seen that not only does stealth 
work, but that it puts fewer assets at risk and saves lives" 
(9), as Donald Rice said. The pilots of those F-117As flew 
through the hardest anti-aircraft missiles any pilot has 
ever flown through.

 When you think of stealth, most people probably 
think of B-2 stealth bomber, but most people don't realize 
that it hasn't even been used in a real war situation yet. 
In November of 1987 the Pentagon ordered the first four B-2s 
to be built for $2 billion. Each B-2 cost $437.4 million to 
build. After the military liked the bomber, they originally
ordered 133 of them, then they cut back to 75 because of the 
deficit-reduction bill. Then, in 1992, the House of 
Representatives voted to buy only twenty, and later only 15 
saying that 10 would be enough. With four General Electric 
engines with 19,000 pounds of thrust each, the B-2s were 
made to carry a lot of weight. The Advanced Technology 
Bomber, as it was called, was made so it couldn't be spotted 
by enemy radar. After testing it was found out that it is 
almost impossible to track it constantly using radar. The 
B-2s were designed to be an all-flying wing and it is made 
up of over eighty percent of composite materials. The B-2 is 
69 feet long, has a wingspan of 172 feet, and 17 feet in 
height. They also can carry a payload of 40,000 pounds and 
can travel at mach 0.85 (Jones 86). The B-2 can carry 80 
bombs, including nuclear bombs. All fifteen of the B-2s are 
assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and await to 
be used in actual combat.

 In 1983 the Advanced Tactical Fighter program office 
was formed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The Air 
Force wanted to build an aircraft that had the ability to 
supercruise without the use of afterburners or running out 
of fuel in a couple of minutes. It should be able to cruise 
at mach 1.4 or 1.5 and be able to take off on runways less 
then 2,000 feet long. Since the money was starting to get 
tight, the Advanced Tactical Fighter should cost under $40 
million each to build. To come up with this aircraft, the 
Military gave a contract to both Northrop and Lockheed to 
each build it with these specifications. 

 The Air Force wanted an air-superiority fighter to 
replace the Douglass F-15 Eagle. In 1986 the Air Force gave 
a contract to Northrop and Lockheed who would each build two 
Advanced Tactical Fighter prototypes. The Northrop YF-23 
made its first flight in August 1990. It was powered by a 
Pratt and Witney F-119-PW engine. The YF-23 can hold four 
AIM-120 missiles. The YF-22 prototype made its first flight 
in September of 1990 and became the first to pass the Air 
Force's supercruise specification. It could reach mach
1.58 and faster. The YF-22 has three weapon bays that can 
each carry two air-to-air missiles. Both fighters can 
supercruise at speeds of Mach 1.5 to 1.7. Their top speeds 
are classified but they can most likely go over Mach 2. In 
April of 1991 the Air Force had to decide which plane they 
wanted, they chose the Lockheed YF-22 even though the YF-23 
was more stealthy and could go faster.

 A new swing-wing stealth aircraft has been spotted 
undergoing test. In September of 1994 it was seen circling 
high over Anarillo, Texas. While it was circling, a radio 
scanner picked up a military UHF channel with the call sign 
Omega. This call sign has never been heard before. The pilot 
was talking about a hydraulic malfunction and was saying he 
was dumping fuel to prepare for an emergency landing. If 
there is a new plane like this, it will probably be called 
the A-17 and will replace the F-111 which has been in 
service since 1967. Recently there have been millions of 
dollars spent expanding the Cannon Air Force Base and a new 
plane might be undergoing testing there. It has also been 
said that high ranking officials have gathered there to look 
at the new aircraft. The Pentagon has announced that the 
F-111 will be retired by the end of 1995. The new swing-wing 
aircraft spotted will most likely replace it. Swing-wing 
aircraft add weight and make a plane more complex, but give 
many advantages. When the wing is swung forward the plane 
can travel farther and can land and takeoff on shorter 
runways. When swung forward it can reach supersonic speeds. 
It was noticed that the new airplane spotted was armed with 
bombs and self-defense missiles. The A-17 has many things in 
common with the YF-23 like the air inlets and the humps on 
top of the fuselage that hide its engines. The engines on it 
are probably General Electric YF-120 turbo fan-turbojet 
engines which can reach speeds up to Mach 2. 

 One of the best recent advances has been in the area 
of flight guidance and control such as the pilotless plane 
or drone. The Firebee is a pilotless plane that can be 
controlled by ground, plane, or by a computer. It can fly 
following a preset course and return. Another advance is 
vertical takeoff. It is a big advantage when an airplane can 
land and takeoff almost anywhere. The British were the first 
to design it, but we built prototypes right away. With the 
advance of stealth technology, radar avoidance has become 
very important. If the enemy doesn't know you are coming 
then they won't even know what hit them if we want to attack 
them. When Donald Rice said, "Stealth saves lives, money, 
and does the job better" (Goodall 10), he was right. 
Operation Dessert Storm showed us that. With the many 
advances of military aircraft, it has become a main and 
effective part of war in recent years. 


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