Aeroplanes are expensive, powerful, fancy targets. To protect their pilots and keep the investment in the planes safe, the United States Air Force has for decades pursued stealth technologies, designed at hiding planes from hostile sensors. Yet stealth, too, is expensive, and with the increased abilities of unmanned aircraft, in the future there doesn't have to be a pilot that needs protecting onboard every aircraft. With lots of cheap drones, for the first time in decades the Air Force could fill the skies with aircraft it isn't afraid to lose.
Meet the B-52's grandchild. Today, after four years of development in secret, the United States Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman the contract to build their Long Range Strike Bomber. With a target price of $511 million apiece (in 2010 dollars), the LRS-B is the first new bomber for the Air Force since their 21st and final B-2 Spirit entered service in 1997. The Air Force will order the first 21 of 100 total LRS-Bs to replace their aging bomber fleet.
NASA may no longer possess a reusable vehicle for travelling to and from low earth orbit, but the United States Air Force has all but established a permanent presence up there. Maybe you've forgotten about the X-37B, the USAF's pilotless, reusable space plane that's been in orbit since launching on March 5, 2020, but it's still up there making laps. Today marks one of the first days of its second year in continuous orbit, a milestone for the mysterious program that the Air Force will tell us virtually nothing about.
The United States Air Force's Blue Devil airshipis getting yet another high-tech upgrade. Via a federal announcement put out last week, The Register reports that DARPA will outfit the Blue Devil Block 2 ISR airship with up to two Free-space Optical Experimental Network Experiment (FOENEX) systems. Think of them like optical lasers that move through the air with the fidelity of the kind of fibre optic cable going into our very own NBN.