Accession Number:

ADA539595

Title:

Nuclear-Powered Aircraft: Potential Air Force's Future Alternative Fuel Persistence and Reach Platform or Crazy Idea?

Descriptive Note:

Research paper

Corporate Author:

AIR COMMAND AND STAFF COLL MAXWELL AFB AL

Personal Author(s):

Report Date:

2009-03-01

Pagination or Media Count:

40.0

Abstract:

The potential for a nuclear-powered aircraft to provide global persistence and reach, measured in months while consuming no petroleum fuel, seems alluring and worthy of pursuit. However operating requirements for such an aircraft, in addition to established political hurdles after Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, will limit the scope of a nuclear-powered aircraft program, if not eliminate the idea completely. By analyzing the potential uses of nuclear-powered aircraft against the legal requirements, the USAF can narrow its limited research and development investments in manpower and materiel to those technologies with the greatest opportunity for employment. This paper assumes a future security environment requiring attributes such as global range, persistence combined with ever rising fuel costs due to fuel scarcity. By analyzing the benefits of a nuclear powered aircraft in various roles against established nuclear legal principles, one can envision a concept of operations that allows future decision makers to effectively balance these risks while employing a nuclear-powered aircraft. Specifically, the aircraft would take off and land either on friendly airbases or international waters. It could then perform its mission over international waters then land at friendly air bases or sea ports. The only role examined that such an aircraft could not perform is attack because of the high likelihood of a nuclear-powered plane getting shot down, thus releasing nuclear radiation, would violate international conventions on the use of nuclear power. However, in the roles of ISR, cargo and missile defense, it could operate much like the nuclear navy operates today. Thus, while there would be limited utility for a nuclear powered aircraft today, this may not always be the case. The earths petroleum reserves will deplete eventually.

Subject Categories:

  • Nuclear Propulsion

Distribution Statement:

APPROVED FOR PUBLIC RELEASE