Iraq to Afghanistan
B-2 Stealth Bomber, B-52H
The super-power status of the United States was unequaled in history. No longer were the mass air and sea battles seen in the 20th century possible, for the great air fleets and most of the factories that built them are gone. The expense of maintaining large, modern, air and naval fleets was beyond the resources of smaller nations not full partners in the global economy. While the threat of war continued, it would come from warlords empowered more by discontent than by their weapons.
As the century ended, the threat to America would come from camps in Afghanistan, where religious fanatics trained to begin a war without airpower. That war would be based on ideology, and technology was only seen as a tool to be turned on its Western promoters. Nearly 60 years after Pearl Harbor, the September 11, 2001, air attack would begin a new century’s war on American security and values. Operation Enduring Freedom may be a model for the new era.
The ATF program
Development of an Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) to replace the F-15 in the next decade has become an extremely lengthy and expensive process. The goal was a multi-mission air superiority fighter to penetrate enemy air space to detect and destroy high-threat targets.
Supersonic cruising speed without afterburners and low radar reflectivity was required and computer directed flight control, navigation and weapons control were essential. The Air Force Flight Dynamics Lab explored design concept contracts with General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas from 1975 to 1986, and Lockheed separately stressed “super stealth” designs.
After many models had been made of the different concepts, Lockheed and Northrop were named on October 31, 1986, as the winners of 691-million dollar contracts to each build two demonstration prototypes. Since each project required more engineering than one company could do, the YF-17 was produced by a Lockheed, General Dynamics and Boeing team, while the YF-23 would be a joint Northrop and McDonnell Douglas product.
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