U.S. Air Force Wants New Ideas For EW, Munitions, Tankers

U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall speaks at the Air and Space Forces Association’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference on Sept. 19.
Credit: dvidshub.net

The U.S. Air Force wants new input from industry for three key mission areas—electromagnetic spectrum, weapons and its mobility aircraft—looking for emerging tech that can help the service address emerging threats.

“We have ... initiated efforts to address the future of our electronic warfare suite of capabilities, our munitions, and the future of our mobility and tanking capabilities—all in the context of a rapidly changing and competitive threat,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said during a Sept. 19 speech at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference near Washington. “We will be reaching out to industry for your ideas, concepts, products and technologies in each of these areas.”

This outreach follows the work done in Kendall’s operational imperatives, a series of problems that the service wants to address. They include loyal wingman drones for the B-21 and Next Generation Air Dominance, moving target engagement at scale, resilient basing and assessing how the service could transition to a “wartime posture” in a large-scale conflict. The service issued requests for information to industry, using input to help shape future budget plans.

While these three missions are not rising to the same level as these imperatives, Kendall says he wants industry to provide “creative, interesting technologies” that the Air Force can take advantage of.

In electronic warfare, for example, the Air Force has recently been focusing on lower-end threats such as improvised explosive devices and small uncrewed aircraft systems (UAV). Now, the Air Force needs to focus more on electronic warfare against peer threats. 

For munitions, the Air Force needs to pay more attention in budgeting after rapid consumption of bombs and missiles in the counterterrorism fight coupled with the need to equip Ukraine in its war with Russia.

Lastly, for future tankers and mobility aircraft, this modernization is on the horizon, and the Air Force wants to start thinking seriously and “we’re looking for some creative and interesting technologies,” Kendall says. This includes adding range and survivability.

Air Force officials have said the need for a future tanker, called KC-Z, is emerging sooner than expected. This has pushed pre-analysis of alternatives (AOA) work to next year, with a full AOA in 2024. This was originally expected in 2030.

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.