A New Toy


US Special Forces has acquired a new UAV, with a twist: It’s a helicopter. And it’s got some real capability:

“The Hummingbird is designed to fly 2,500 nautical miles with endurance in excess of 24 hours and a payload of more than 300 pounds. The autonomously-flown A160 is 35 feet long with a 36-foot rotor diameter,” according to Hummingbird-maker Boeing’s rather brief entry on the craft. “It will fly at an estimated top speed of 140 knots at ceilings up to 30,000 feet, which is about 10,000 feet higher than conventional helicopters can fly today.”

Surveillance, strike, supply, even casualty evac all appear to be potential tasks. Cool.

Preemptive Strike

Noah Shachtman at Wired and the gang at Inside Defense take note of some incoming potshots the USAF general in command of the missile defense program has lobbed at the incoming administration:

Lt. Gen. Trey Obering appeared to take a veiled shot at the incoming national security team yesterday, calling their knowledge about the interceptor effort “dated.”

Fair enough, but what follows isn’t:

Obering “warned against moving away from the proposed deployment of missile defense assets in Europe,”Inside Defense reports. Such a move, the general said, “would severely hurt, No. 1, our ability to protect our deployed forces in that region and our allies and our friends in that region from what we see as an emerging threat.” 

Uh, that’s a political decision, general, meaning it’s above your pay grade. You get the same say on those as everyone else, meaning one vote.

Tanker Fight

Business Week reports on the ever-more-complicated politics surrounding the Boeing/Airbus/Northrup tanker-contract bidding. Lobbyists from both sides worked the Democratic National Convention and Boeing could be seeing its future at stake:

Adds [Lexington Institute defense analyst Loren] Thompson: “Boeing is at least as worried about their key commercial customers in the U.S. market as they are about the tanker franchise. Once EADS sets up a commercial operation in the U.S. market, Boeing loses a lot of its national advantage in terms of competing for congressional support, protests from the [U.S. Trade Representative], and so on.”

The electoral politics of the thing are straightforward. Washington state [Boeing] votes Democratic, Alabama [Northrup/Airbus] votes Republican, and you can expect the incoming administration to award the contract accordingly.

The defense acquisitions argument is a different matter. Until DoD throws Airbus a contract, Boeing will retain a monopoly on large-aircraft sales to the military because the only other big domestic producer, Lockheed/Martin, got out of the transport business for good after taking a bath on the L-1011. An award to Airbus would also help build the domestic manufacturing base (if perhaps in an industry facing long-term decline) and punish Boeing for its ethics problems.

Dept. of Unfortunate Comparisons

Elp the blogger likens the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the old F-105. Ouch. For those not in the know, the F-105, aka the “Thud,” was part of the USAF stable of early- and mid-60s fighters that helped make the North Vietnamese look like the second coming of Oswald Boelcke’s Flying Circus.