The United States Air Force (USAF) is seeking to retire its aging line of Lockheed U-2 spy planes as soon as 2019 but this leaves a noticeable hole in the service's conventional high-altitude tactical reconnaissance section - the only other viable alternative remains the expensive Northrop Grumman RQ-4 "Global Hawk" line. In response, Lockheed has drawn up plans for the "TR-X", a stealth-minded unmanned air vehicle to take the place of the storied U-2 in the USAF inventory. The new air vehicle will be developed along the same mission lines as the U-2 - namely Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (IRS) missions - and operate at altitudes around 70,000 feet to steer clear of most enemy air defenses and interceptors.
It is expected that the design will carry the same (or similar) powerplant as the outgoing U-2, making it subsonic in flight, and stealth features proven on other Lockheed products (including the F-22 and F-35 aircraft) will heavily influence the overall design of the aircraft. Current conceptual artwork showcases a black design form with swept-back wing mainplanes, outward-cranked tail fins, and a dorsal intake set aft of the nose. All mission equipment will be held internally with a modular payload capability being built-in. Support for existing U-2 and RQ-4 equipment will also play into the new design.
As it stands, Lockheed foresees an initial batch of thirty TR-X unmanned stealth aircraft to succeed the U-2 in USAF service (the new product will also threaten the competing unmanned RQ-4 which is a conventional - non-stealthy- design). The TR-X foray by Lockheed marks its first entry into the realm of unmanned stealth aircraft since the cancelled RQ-3 "Darkstar" (detailed elsewhere on this site). Early modest estimates call for about $3.8 billion in spending to bring the TR-X about.
It remains a realistic prospect that the U-2 will continue in operational service into the 2020s despite the expected 2019 retirement date.
All presented figures showcased below are pure estimates on the part of the author and based on current U-2 capabilities.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
Aircraft inherently designed (or later developed) with an unmanned capability to cover a variety of over-battlefield roles.
52.5 ft (16.00 m)
68.9 ft (21.00 m)
14.8 ft (4.50 m)
12,125 lb (5,500 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Lockheed TR-X production variant)
1 x General Electric F118 turbofan engine (or similar) developing an estimated 20,000lb of thrust.
The "Military Factory" name and MilitaryFactory.com logo are registered ® U.S. trademarks protected by all applicable domestic and international intellectual property laws. All written content, illustrations, and photography are unique to this website (unless where indicated) and not for reuse/reproduction in any form. Material presented throughout this website is for historical and entertainment value only and should not to be construed as usable for hardware restoration, maintenance, or general operation. We do not sell any of the items showcased on this site. Please direct all other inquiries to militaryfactory AT gmail.com.
Part of a network of sites that includes GlobalFirepower, a data-driven property used in ranking the top military powers of the world, WDMMA.org, the World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft, and SR71blackbird.org, detailing the history of the world's most iconic spyplane.