‘Micro’ Drones, ‘Arsenal’ Plane, Railguns Funded in Defense Budget

An electromagnetic (EM) railgun is fitted forward. The EM railgun uses high-power electromagnetic energy, instead of explosive chemical propellants, to fire hypervelocity projectiles at ranges of up to 200 km. These projectiles will destroy targets using kinetic energy rather than conventional explosives. (Image copyright 2015 Startpoint)An electromagnetic (EM) railgun is fitted forward. The EM railgun uses high-power electromagnetic energy, instead of explosive chemical propellants, to fire hypervelocity projectiles at ranges of up to 200 km. These projectiles will destroy targets using kinetic energy rather than conventional explosives. (Image copyright 2015 Startpoint)

A couple of decades ago, the Navy had an idea for an “arsenal ship” that went nowhere, but Defense Secretary Ashton Carter did the service one better Tuesday with his surprise proposal for an “arsenal plane.”

Nobody knows yet what an arsenal plane would look like, or what its potential missions would be, other than that it would fashioned from an existing large aircraft platform — maybe a B-52 bomber — and it would be crammed with all manner of munitions. It might be manned or unmanned.

The arsenal plane concept was the most striking in a range of ideas for new weapons and military technology Carter unveiled in a speech to the Economic Club of Washington in a preview of Pentagon’s proposed $583 billion fiscal 2017 budget.

Other new systems included anti-missile railgun projectiles for Navy ships and Army artillery, “swarming microdrones” for battlefield intelligence, and mini-cameras for precision-guided munitions.

Read the rest of the story at Military.com.

About the Author

Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.
  • Jeff

    Arsenal ships make more sense, the need for an aircraft to stay up with what will generally be a lot of dead weight for indefinite amounts of time makes a plane less efficient, though it would help with response times.

    I hate to say airship but a high flying derigable probably makes more for this sort of role.

    • ratt

      Are you dumb, or just stupid? You want to use lighter-than-air ships that cruise under 100mph, are the size of a small aircraft carrier, and have the maneuverability of an ocean liner to serve as a fast response attack bomber? Inside enemy turf? Huh..!!??

  • stephen russell

    Favor arsenal ships with wide array of ammo to choose from.
    Cant see it in planes.
    TOO costly to develop.
    Even using estd airframes.

  • Pepito

    The next project is the space arsenal space cruisers (battle star) all loaded with space jet fighters, missiles, rockets and drones orbiting the Earth ready for any confrontation.B-52’s are too old and vulnerable.

  • Michael G. Gallagher

    The “arsenal plane” is actually not a very new idea. As far back as the 1970s there were plans load up 747s with up to 100 cruise missiles. A 747 or a C-17 has a lot of space, so you could pack a lot of Tomahawk or Lockheed’s LRSM in one and still have room for a heavy load of AAM’s and an extensive ECM suite. A large aircraft like a 747 or a C-17 could also carry the fiber-optic megawatt class lasers that are projected to go into service in a few years. There are lots of used aircraft on the market and besides, Boeing would undoubtedly love some orders to keep its 747 freighter production line open. A large aircraft with long range and a lengthy loiter time could lob cruise from the edge or beyond the range of Chinese air defences. Fly in from Alaska or Hawaii, drop your cruise missiles 1500 kms off the Chinese coast and then hightail it for home. Stealth? Slap some radar absorbent paint on the thing.

    • blight_

      An ICBM was launched from an aircraft once…could always try that again.

      Radar absorbent paint won’t make a large dent in the radar cross section. Shape is probably a good deal more important, otherwise we would have slathered paint on all the things already.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    I wonder if the “Arsenal plane” proposal isn’t a tacit admission that the F-35’s payload capacity, while maintaining stealth, is now recognized as inadequate. I could see an F-35, (if and when finally operational) locating targets and transmitting targeting data back to a B-1 (a likelier candidate, IMHO, then a C-17)loaded with munitions. The F-35’s own internal load would be reserved for self-defense and for extremely time-sensitive targets.

  • Tnoc

    I would imagine the AC130 Gunships are considered arsenal and we know how the Army loved that one. But then that’s not chump change spending we’re talking here.

  • jsam78

    Why not use the B-1 as an arsenal plane? I think this is an idea worth pursuing. In some of the war gaming scenarios run in the last several years, a common theme has emerged – the qualitative edge of US forces is overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of fighters a near peer can throw at us (aka China). One reason why that happens is because our current and future generations of stealth fighters are limited by how many missiles they can carry internally. An arsenal plane could help in that scenario. The F-22s and ’35’s could paint targets for an arsenal plane which would then engage them. We’d need to develop a long range AAM to accompany the plane.

  • Forreal

    There are all kind of ideas like Arsenal Ships that are perfectly good ideas against technologically inferior foes but are all but useless against a peer enemy. You need either something that is a stealth aircraft or can submerge if you don’t want to be a sitting duck.

    The other option is extreme stand off weapons. A very large plane with a long reach that could haul very long range cruise missiles would be a powerful system. A plane that could fly 5000 miles, launch long range cruise missiles 1500 miles from a target, then fly 5000 miles back home without needing to refuel would be an extraordinary capability.

  • matt
  • Justin

    What ever happened to the behemoth flying wing concept? I would think that form-factor would be ideal for this…

    • blight_

      The Boeing WIG you mean?