Stealthy Airlift for Commandos


Another intriguing idea that emerged from this week’s Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments talk comes from Bob Martinage who discussed the Special Operations Community’s airlift shortfall.

You saw yesterday that we mentioned the debate over CV and MV-22 numbers and the potential replacements for a reduced buy of Ospreys for the spec ops community. But one thing I didn’t write about was Martinage’s call for a stealthy long-range transport for use by SOF to sneak larger numbers of personnel and equipment into shady LZs.

What Martinage proposes is to use the same airframe that the Air Force decides on for its new Next-Generation bomber program. Think of it as B-1 meets C-17.

If we want to gain access into a denied environment like China in the future, we’ve got to have a stealthy SOF transport. The C-130, even with all the tricks it can do for active defenses and so on, is not going to be survivable against the types of integrated air defenses that are available today, let alone 2015 or beyond. Whether it’s for inserting ground forces into an anti-access area or denied environment against China, Iran or you name it — or [for] truly clandestine operations in sensitive areas around the world, I need a stealthy transport. This will almost certainly need to be a variation of the Next Generation Bomber that the Air Force is building.

You might remember that our boy Steve Trimble at Flight Global pulled a diamond out of the rough when he spotted a line in NGB-contender Northrop Grumman’s press release saying they thought delivering snake eaters to their drop zone in specialized cruise missiles fired from the NGB would be a swell idea.

That is, unless you’re one of those commandos stuffed in metal tube at angels 1 traveling at 300 kts.

Anyway, though this sounds a bit “Starship Troopers” Martinage admits the Air Force has shown little enthusiasm for the less sexy (compared to the fighter jocks) world of covert ops.

It is imperative for AFSOC to field a stealthy SOF transport to provide clandestine mobility and support to SOF ground units in denied, semi-permissive and politically sensitive areas. It appears that the only feasible path ahead is to develop a SOF transport variant of the NGB. Without active support of the Air Force, both in terms of integrating fundamental performance parameters for SOF applications into the initial NGB design and willingness to procure additional airframes for SOCOM-funded modification, a stealthy SOF transport is unlikely to be realized.

That would kind of suck, huh?

— Christian

  • Valcan

    Anyway, though this sounds a bit “Starship Troopers” Martinage admits the Air Force has shown little enthusiasm for the less sexy (compared to the fighter jocks) world of covert ops.
    So….how much crap has scifi thought up and become real?
    That is, unless you’re one of those commandos stuffed in metal tube at angels 1 traveling at 300 kts.
    definatly agree what are they gonna do to dampin the gforces?
    always wondered if theyd do the dame to some of the boomers turn the missiles into launchers for seals

  • Chris

    I remember reading that the Russians once tested their air-droppable tanks (PT-76

  • campbell

    drop the idea of getting there FAST. slow down to 200 mph. carry company sized units, direct from CONUS, fly in at 1,000′-6,000′, sit and hover for days until needed, fly in without infra-red signature, without accoustic signature, and very little radar signature. fly nap of the earth, or land at any time, anyplace on water or land. use no fuel.
    A Boomer that flies. quiet, stealthy, able to linger in theater without limit on range or time.
    AIRSHIPS (no blimps, no zeppelins)

  • Vstress

    Chris: That isn’t the most insane idea… you should check out the tank that they made fly!
    Valcan: There are ways to dampen g-forces - look at the way the russian capsules come into land from space missions. They come in at pretty high speeds.
    I think it is possible - generally with these sorts of applications, it’s a question of money and time!
    You give engineers both and they will revamp the world. Usually we don’t get either in large amounts, lol. It’s always set up with project “milestones” that mean nothing usually, but managers always drive to meet them. Look at the A-400, it’s had a prototype built, but I know for a fact there are some MAJOR redesigns going on!
    My comment being - it’s possible to build this for testing/proving of concept etc. but for a proper aircraft I just can’t see where the budget will come from (I’m saying this with a tear in my eye! I wish I knew that an aviation job is going to be secure one! In any country[without counting China etc.]!)

  • Roy Smith

    When I read this,I heard the movie score from “the Sting” playing in the background. Great,let’s throw another 10-100 billion dollars or more down the piss hole for another “Emperor’s New Clothes” project which will naturally be canceled as soon as the “production date” draws near. God,I sure missed my calling as a “defense tech/scam artist” trying to bilk our government AND taxpayers for another “fantasy” that there is no SERIOUS intent of actually building.

  • CSI

    Look at how easily the Israeli airforce penetrated into Syrian airspace last year - and since the U.S. is at least as well equipped, there is no doubt the USAF could effortlessly drop troops into China, Russia or Iran right now or at anytime in the future without requiring a super-expensive stealth transport.

  • Scathsealgaire

    Scifi has actually come up with a great deal of ideas that have become real.
    If you want to have a look at a list(rather large), got to
    Don’t forget, the whole idea of scifi is to speculate on possible science and applications of science. Sometimes engineers take these ideas and run with them.

  • C-Low

    Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to just make a pod that will fit in a B-2 or new B-X bomb bay that would hold a SOF unit and their equipment? Then just have a hatch on the bottom so they can roll out and parachute down? May actually be financially possible if they don’t have to buy the airplane.
    A pod would be a hell of a lot easier than redesigning a aircraft and you get the added advantage the enemy has no tell like someone seeing C-X enter theater or take of from base X in theater. A B-2 bomb bay is a pretty big space to work with, little cramped for a 10hr or so ride but we are talking non-standard rare need here.
    Landing a aircraft behind enemy lines is not a stealthy insertion. HALO with Para sail insertion is.
    The only problem I see with my plan. We could get you in, support, & resupply ya (same pod but instead of SOF we roll out a man-size supply pod with GPS para sail attached) but you are humping it out. Sounds over the top but when you think any mission this deep would be Intel or target assisting mission anyway, humping it out may be a option considering red team doesn’t know you are their to search for.

  • Drake

    More outdated conventional war planning for a Chinese Cold War that may never be fought, in a world increasingly occupied with fighting non state actors in failed state arenas. What good is a costly to maintain and purchase B1 inspired troop carrier in increasing conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan?
    Stick with helicopters that are reliable and affordable so we can purchase more of them to carry our expanding Special Forces.

  • Roy Smith

    You know,the Russians & Chinese are patiently waiting for us to implode. Our current military equipment is wearing out because we cannot come up with a coherent plan for the future. The only thing that is certain for our military is that they are not going to get ANY of the modern weapons that are being dangled in front of their eyes. I watched both “the Hulk” & “Iron man”(both great propaganda puff pieces for the U.S. Military),& like the movie “Transformers”,I saw weapons that will NEVER be fielded by our military. I’m not talking about sci-fi weapons,I’m talking about weapon systems that our own Pentagon has been saying for years that we’ll get. Like the “Flying Wing” bomber in the original War of the Worlds movie,we are seeing weapon systems today,like the JSF(or the Comanche helicopter in the original Hulk movie),that will never see the light of day. People who cannot make up their minds what they want end up with nothing at all. Meanwhile the grifters who make up the Military Industrial Complex scam us out of billions of dollars more for their “fake,phony” weapons systems that will never be produced after all of the money spent in “research & development” is put into their off-shore bank accounts.

  • Joe

    The Syrian Air Defence Force has 1980s SAMS, and a limited front-line fighter force. It definitely doesn’t qualify as “integrated air defenses that are available today, let alone 2015 or beyond”.
    That said, I’m never entirely convinced by Henlein-style ‘drop pods’; even if you rein in the designers and point out at what speed you can fling the human body before it goes kablooey, the problem with using such a system to do deep penetration of heavily defended airspace is that it is fundamentally one-way.
    Unless SOC is going to switch to kamikaze doctrine, some means of extracting the team is still needed…which either begs the question “then why didn’t you send them IN that way?” or requires such a large-scale suppression of defences that any chance of being covert is eliminated and you might as well have done that first and then flown in perfectly safely in a blackhawk.
    A stealthy transport? Yes, good idea. But please go with a concept that you can fly out on again afterwards…..

  • yasotay

    CV-22 is too expensive and a stealthy CTOL transport that needs a runway (or even more expensive to land horizontally on dirt)is the great idea of the day…

  • Brian

    Yeah, far be it from me to look at new defense systems and say “why are we wasting money on this?” (I never saw a cool new weapon that I didn’t like), but this is a bit over the top. I just don’t see the use.
    It’s not like we’re likely to have a need to get a squad of troops into the dead center of China in like 4 hours. We have ways of getting guys into hostile territory without detection already. And if we’re deploying ground forces to a country where they have enough integrated air defenses that we NEED stealth transports, we’re probably going to be at war with them anyway. We can just as easily bomb the crap out of them and then send in our guys to mop up the mess.
    Not to worry, though, Roy. There’s zero chance of this thing getting a penny of funding. It’s just like when I was a kid and would sit and flip through the Sears catalogue toy section and dream.

  • Tony

    i believe that a multi role force is needed, made up of all the defense forces.
    i have for some time looked at the use of a vtol stealth craft which has fans built into the wings for vtol and can on landing by way of hydraulics lift itself up similar to that of thunderbird 2 yes the puppet show to allow 3 containers to be left on the ground.
    These would house a cac centre with the other 2 containers housing a unit and equipment in the other.
    these can be with camouflage and location be stealthily left for recon and assist as a forward base of ops using data from ground forces ie the unit and equipment such as uavs and land uavs with control by the cac and also transmit data by use of sat.
    These same 3 containers are self sufficient for power water and anything else for use by the unit concerned along with land vehicles that can go offroad and in water and extend out to carry its own container.

  • Achmed Fubar

    Back at the 95 Spec Op Expo at Bragg they had pods attached to each wing of Harriers that could each hold 3 operators and 300lbs of equipment. Just update it to a F-35, 6 operators and 600lbs of gear per aircraft. You have stealth, VSTOL and capacity.

  • ajay


  • Bill

    The idea of airships is acually one that has been preposed before.. Main concern is stealthedness.. Does the tech. allow one to be made that could reflect or dampen radar and/ or other dectection modes.. I believe that we could make one pretty close to invisable.. And like was mentioned before, the operators could be picked up and brought out as well.. Not to mention that active defensive systems could be placed on one.. A 50′ simirigid airship, w/ crew area, cargo area, and even small survallence area is possable.. Not to mention the detection devices that could be placed all over the outer perimeter of the semirigid.. only thing is that it would be slow.. max speed about 50-60knots @ present.. But then again, the airship has not had the engineering resouces the plane or even helicopter has had over the last 75+ years.. Tech. would catch it up quite quickle though..
    Anyway, food for thought.