One of the most secretive military research centers in the world is ready to go public with a plan for a high-flying reconnaissance drone that will be able to peer deeper into hostile nations without penetrating their air space than any other drone. Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works proposes to build a fleet of 30 semi-stealthy drones capable of carrying 5,000 pounds of sensors at altitudes up to 70,000 feet. That’s two-thirds more carrying capacity and 10,000 feet more altitude than the Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, which is due to take over high-altitude recon missions from the U-2 spy plane at the end of this decade. The TR-X, as Lockheed calls it, would be faster than the Global Hawk, generate more on-board power, and be more survivable. Best of all, it would only cost $3.8 billion to develop and build a fleet of 30 drones — about what two B-2 bombers cost. For nine hours of federal spending at present rates, the joint force can generate unique high-altitude recon through mid-century. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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