12 January 2006

X-45 and THEL Cancelled

Today appears to be awash with military news.

The Air Force has decided to cancel the X-45 (and apparently the X-47 as well). These planes would have been basically unmanned fighter jets with an emphasis on small bombing runs, a mission similar to that filled by the soon to be retired F-117 stealth fighter.

Instead, it is focusing on "a next-generation long-range strike aircraft, accelerating its bomber modernization plans by nearly two decades in an effort to quickly enhance the Air Force’s effectiveness across the Asia-Pacific region."

Conceptually, the Air Force may view cuts in the B-52 fleet previously mentioned today as a way of funding this new bomber, rather than the F-22.

Meanwhile, the Army has cancelled its tactical high energy laser (THEL) program. This laser weapon could shoot down incoming artillery fire and missiles, but apparently must produce vast amounts of toxic gunk to operate. The most likely replacments seem to be slug/grenade throwing systems based on the Navy's anti-cruise missile Close In Weapons System (CIWS).


Dex said...

why does none of this seem like especially good news to me?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Cancelling THEL is certainly bad news, but isn't a bad policy decision. It is good policy to cancel weapons that don't work the way that they are supposed to work for fundamental technological reasons rather than poor implementation.

The X-45 cancellation, I'm more ambivalent about.

One one hand, the argument that the F-22, F-117 and X-45 (the X-47 was a back up to the X-45 in case the X-45 was a technological flop), certainly overlap and having three hammers to hit the same nail is wasteful.

On the other hand, the X-45 was likely to be a heck of a lot cheaper than the F-22 (like 10%-20% of the price per unit) and could also be used on an aircraft carrier as well as from ground bases (unlike the F-22) and would keep U.S. troops out of harms way. Moreover, the X-45 was also a stepping stone to an unmanned air to air fighter which would be superhumanly manueverable, considerably cheaper than a manned plane, and would keep pilots out of harm's way. So, it is easy to see "fighter mafia" self-preservation instincts in that move rather than genuine national security interests.