At the 2016 Farnborough Air Show, Sikorsky showed off a new upgrade to its popular Black Hawk helicopter with side weapons pylons and a chin sensor turret. MARCUS WEISGERBER / DEFENSE ONE
Defense One: Flexible Flyers: Companies Race to Equip Warplanes for Quick Modification
With innovation a new strategic imperative, aircraft builders are making it easier for planes to accept hardware and software improvements.
FARNBOROUGH, England — Pentagon leaders have long lamented insurgents’ ability to produce new weapons and tactics faster than the U.S. military could react. Now defense firms are responding with aircraft designed to evolve as quickly as the modern battlefield.
The trend, on full display at this week’s Farnborough Air Show, mirrors Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s push to develop new and surprising capabilities for existing U.S. weapons.
Take the the SPYDR, built by L-3 Communications. Based on the Beechcraft King Air, it resembles the C-12 intelligence plane, with ridged antennas and bulbous domes protruding from its body and wings. But while the Army and Air Force C-12s are generally built to collect specific types of intelligence and cannot be easily reconfigured, the SPYDR is designed to easily accept different types of cameras, antennas and radars — whatever the day’s mission requires. In theory, it could fly a signals intelligence mission to intercept enemy communications, land, have a radar bolted onto its belly, and then head off on a search-and-track mission.
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WNU Editor: This is long overdue, and my guess is that declining budgets is now (finally) forcing defense companies to innovate and cut costs.