Military Aviation

New U-2 Upgrade Underpins Dragon Lady’s Role in Bridging Capabilities Needed for Next Generation Battlespace

“As a proven, agile and reliable aircraft, the U-2S is the most capable high-altitude ISR system in the fleet today,” Irene Helley, U-2 program director.

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works continues to evolve the U-2 Dragon Lady to support future battlespace needs under a recent contract award from the U.S. Air Force valued at $50 million.

Today, the U-2 Dragon Lady is not only ensuring global security 24/7/365 as the most capable, high-altitude intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) system in the fleet, but it’s also helping to bridge to the Air Force’s vision for the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), a program that will bring to life the ‘internet of things’ for the military.

In the future, no battle will be fought on a single battlefield. Connectivity will be crucial. ABMS means total battlespace awareness and dominance, with every warfighter and system operating across the sea, ground, air, space and cyber domains sharing critical information instantaneously.

According to the company News Release, the contract includes the following upgrades to the Dragon Lady:

  • An updated avionics suite that modernizes the U-2’s onboard systems to readily accept and use new technology.
  • A new mission computer designed to the U.S. Air Force’s open mission systems (OMS) standard that enables the U-2 to integrate with systems across air, space, sea, land and cyber domains at disparate security levels.
  • New, modern cockpit displays to make everyday pilot tasks easier while enhancing presentation of the data the aircraft collects to enable faster, better informed decisions.

The result? Greater connectivity and greater battlespace awareness for the warfighter to complete their mission at the speed required in today’s evolving threat environment.

The U-2 will also be the first fully OMS compliant fleet, providing the ability to plug-and-play new capabilities quickly and affordably to support ABMS.

“As a proven, agile and reliable aircraft, the U-2S is the most capable high-altitude ISR system in the fleet today. The Avionics Tech Refresh contract will continue our commitment of providing a premier aircraft to our warfighters, ensuring global security now and into the future,” said Irene Helley, U-2 program director.

Under this contract, Lockheed Martin will lead the design, integration and test of the new advanced aircraft components, which will enable the U-2 to be the first fully OMS-compliant fleet. Interim fielding is anticipated to begin in mid-2021, with fleet modification expected in early 2022.

Built in complete secrecy by Kelly Johnson and the Lockheed Skunk Works, the original U-2A first flew in August 1955. Early flights over the Soviet Union in the late 1950s provided the president and other U.S. decision makers with key intelligence on Soviet military capability. In October 1962, the U-2 photographed the buildup of Soviet offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, touching off the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Initially projected to have an operational life of just two years, the U-2 would go on to see service in every subsequent American war, while showing remarkable versatility as a non-military aircraft.

When equipped with a wide variety of sensors, the U-2 has morphed into everything from a high-tech NASA platform for conducting physics experiments to a high-altitude tool for tracking the migration of destructive spruce bark beetles through the forests of Alaska.

Today, U-2s are used as aerial eavesdropping devices; U-2s survey dirt patterns for signs of makeshift mines and IEDs over Iraq and Afghanistan, making these dynamic high-flyers as effective today as they were nearly 60 years ago.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. U-2S Dragon Lady “Senior Span”, 9th RW, 99th RS, 80-329

Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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