A recent drone sighting at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri underscores the need for the Air Force to continue developing systems to counter unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that trespass on its installations, according to a four-star general.

“That got real to us not too long ago with Whiteman,” said Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command. “It’s not just down range over in the combat zones.”

Northrop Grumman's B-2 bomber. Photo: Air Force.
Northrop Grumman’s B-2 bomber. Photo: Air Force.

Whiteman is home to the B-2 stealth bomber fleet and is supposed to be a no-drone zone. But the Air Force and other services and defense agencies are increasingly concerned about the proliferation of small, commercially available drones that could accidentally or intentionally fly onto U.S. bases. In July, an Air Force F-22 fighter nearly collided with a small UAS while landing (Defense Daily, July 11).

The Air Force is evaluating a wide range of technologies to defend against such drones. For example, in September, the Air Force said it plans to conduct a counter-UAS experiment in fiscal year 2018 using directed energy weapons (Defense Daily, Sept. 27).

“We’re working really hard on counter-UAS, and so that’s a capability we need to continue to work our way through,” Rand said Nov. 30 at an Association of Old Crows conference in Washington, D.C.

In other comments, Rand said the Air Force continues to talk with the Navy about the possibility of using a common airframe to replace the Air Force E-4B command-and-control plane, which is a militarized version of a Boeing [BA] 747, and the Navy E-6B command-and-control plane, which is a derivative of a Boeing 707.

“Those are discussions that are ongoing,” he said. “No decisions have been made yet.”

The Air Force also continues to study whether to place new engines on the aging B-52H bomber. While Rand said the B-52H is the closest he has seen to getting a re-engining, the Air Force still needs to find a way to pay for the modernization.

“I think we’ve made a compelling case that the B-52’s going to be around and it warrants being re-engined for a lot of reasons that I’ve talked about for the last two years,” he told reporters.

The Air Force plans to hold an industry day Dec. 12 and 13 at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to seek more information from aircraft integration contractors and engine manufacturers for the potential re-engining.