Pentagon considering arsenal plane program to assist less-armed stealth planes

F4 Phantom
F4 Phantom
F4 Phantom
A semi-secret Pentagon plan to convert old war planes into “flying launchpads” or “arsenal planes” to aid stealthier, less weapons-capable planes was mentioned by Defense Secretary Ash Carter in a speech outlining a $583 billion military budget for 2017.

Speaking to the non-profit Economic Club of Washington on February 2, Secretary Carter brought up the little-known Strategic Capabilities Office, something “we don’t often talk about,” he said.

“I created SCO in 2012 when I was deputy secretary of defense to reimagine existing DoD, intelligence community, and commercial systems by giving them new roles and game-changing capabilities to confound potential opponents,” Carter said.“The emphasis here was on rapidity of fielding, not 10 and 15-year programs. Getting stuff in the field quickly.”

One of the projects Carter wants realized quickly is the “arsenal plane,” which he described to the group, albeit with few details.

“And the last project I want to highlight is one that we’re calling the arsenal plane, which takes one of our oldest aircraft platform and turns it into a flying launchpad for all sorts of different conventional payloads,” Carter said. “In practice, the arsenal plane will function as a very large airborne magazine, networked to fifth generation aircraft that act as forward sensor and targeting nodes, essentially combining different systems already in our inventory to create whole new capabilities.”

Though Carter avoids naming which aircraft would serve what role, an “arsenal plane” would certainly benefit F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters, which are limited to carrying bombs internally since external arms ruin their stealth capabilities.

The F-22 is capable of carrying just two air-to-air missiles and from two to eight bombs, depending on the type. The F-35, a notoriously over-budget and under-performing plane, can only handle two bombs and two air-to-air missiles due to its unfinished software system.

At about $90 million a pop, the F-35 amounts to one of the most expensive defense programs, totaling about $1 trillion for nearly 2,500 planes with an additional $650 billion required for upkeep, according to the Government Accountability Office. Legislative attempts to cut spending and do away with much of the F-35 program have failed, leading to further spending to try to fix the budget boondoggle’s defects.

One likely contender for the arsenal plane is the B-52, a bomber first introduced in 1955, which can carry a weapons payload of up to 70,000 pounds (31,750 kilograms). Another is the B-1 bomber, which debuted in 1986 and is able to reach supersonic speeds, meaning it is relatively well-suited to accompany F-22s and F-35s. Other possibilities include cargo planes such as the C-130 Hercules and the superior C-17 Globemaster.

A similar “arsenal ship” program was sought by the Navy in the 1990s, but ultimately was deemed too expensive to complete.

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  1. This reminds me when President Carter canceled the B-1 Bomber his men came up with loading a bunch of missiles on a 747 and using it as a stand off bomber. It was turned down before as a stupid idea. It seems history is repeating it self or the same fools are still in charge, I go with the latter. This shows that the US military has no faith in the F-35 already but they insist on building this White Elephant anyway. Anyway this will make it easier for the Russian to shot down a whole lot of heavily loaded US aircraft with there long range range S-440/500 SAM’s. The US is already talking about their next fiasco of a six generation fighter to replace the same planes that the F-35 is suppose to replace. I believe that the F-35 will end production sooner then later like the F-22. After they build the first 500 and they find that they still won’t work like they were suppose to the Pentagon will end the production for the bigger more expensive boondoggle for the sixth generation fighter. Why I know it will be a boondoggle, The F-22 wasn’t just cancelled because it was to expensive, it had major problems, just like the B-2, like they can’t fight in rain. Is the F-35 stealth made of the same stuff like the B-2 and F-22. The defense industry already made junk on three aircraft, now counting ships, why would the next aircraft be better?

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