The U-2 program celebrates its 60th anniversary in September 2015. Since its first flight in 1955, the U-2 program has seen tremendous changes to its airframe and technology. Today’s U-2S serves as the most capable, reliable and survivable ISR platform available. The U-2S has 80 percent airframe life remaining, and is operationally capable to fly beyond 2045.
The U-2 remains in front-line service more than 50 years after its first flight with the current U-2 beginning service in 1980. In the mid-1990s, it was converted from the U-2R to the U-2S, receiving the GE F118 turbofan engine. This is due primarily to its ability to change surveillance objectives on short notice, something that surveillance satellites cannot do. The U-2 outlasted its Mach 3 replacement, the SR-71, which was retired in 1998. A classified budget document approved by the Pentagon on 23 December 2005 called for the U-2’s termination no earlier than 2012, with some aircraft being retired by 2007. In January 2006, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced the U-2’s pending retirement as a cost cutting measure during a larger reorganization and redefinition of the USAF’s mission. Rumsfeld said that this will not impair the USAF’s ability to gather intelligence, which will be done by satellites and a growing supply of unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk reconnaissance aircraft.