Home » Sea » AirSea Battle » The Carrier-Launched Predator C

The Carrier-Launched Predator C

by John Reed on January 18, 2012

You see a ton of animated pics of a UAV that looks just like Northrop’s X-47B carrier-launched stealth drone operating off of U.S. carriers of the 21st Century but this pic from General Atomics serves as a reminder that Northrop isn’t the only company vying to build the sea service’s first combat ready, carrier-launched attack drone.

This image from GA’s booth at the Surface Navy Association’s annual convention last week just outside Washington shows one of the company’s Predator C Avenger drones (or should I say Sea Avenger) getting ready to be launched from the USS Gerald R Ford’s bow by a GA-built electromagnetic catapult.

The Sea Avenger is one of four programs in the mix to build the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) drone. Other entries are Northrop, whose X-47B is gearing up to fly from an aircraft carrier, Lockheed Martin, who makes the Air Force’s RQ-170 and Boeing who makes the stealthy Phantom Ray drone.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

trexryan January 18, 2012 at 11:50 am

If the comms drop or are hacked on the UAV side, it just doesn't matter where (geographically) the remote pilot resides. For that reason, effort is spent on securing the comms and adding redundancy into the navs (supplement GPS with inertial nav and fail-safe RTB).

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blight January 18, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Can always use them for SEAD or for missile trucks.

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beaver02 January 19, 2012 at 11:59 am

what happens if they hack it and the rtb happens and they have control of the weapon systems?

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Lightbringer January 18, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I mentioned elsewhere on this site my thoughts about how the Royal Navy could achieve more “bang for the buck” flying drones off a handful of HMS Ocean-style light carriers than they could with the two supercarriers. Thinking it through, it seems logical that that’s going to be the future for a lot of medium sized militaries. Light carriers built cheaply to a commercial standard and drones. If a major company can come up with a small, stealthy, high performance and long endurance drone that can fly off a light carrier, you can bet that variations on that aircraft will be in use for the next 50 years around the globe…

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zardinuk January 18, 2012 at 1:36 pm

You mean a helicopter carrier like the America class?

How about an unmanned packages for the F-35B?

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blight January 18, 2012 at 4:41 pm

My understanding was that only a few of the Americas would delete the well-deck. They're still more for Gator delivery than for light carrier duty.

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ziv January 18, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Blight, you are right. Only LHA-6 and LHA-7 will be built without a well deck, but after Ellison's attack on the funding, there might be no LHA-8. Or it could take even longer for the keel to be laid.

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RCDC January 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm

We should make sure the Iranians will not bring this down to their surface.

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Dan January 18, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Seems as though sometime last year I saw a video/simulation with the Sea Avenger deployed along with F-35C's over on Stephen Trimble's blog. The odd thing about it was that the timeline was 2014?-2015? or somewhere close. Talk about controlling a swarm or even a couple of drones from a 2-seat F-35C seems a bit premature, to say the least, given the impending (probably major) problem with the tailhook situation. Couldn't a F-18F do the same thing or does it lack the link-capability?

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Lance January 18, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Forget about Hornets Tomcats and Predator drones How about we get some new carriers need them to launch planes and drones anyway and since they are retiring possibly 5 carriers this decade why spend money and new ships then.

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Dan Gao January 18, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Bleh. I hope the go for the X-47. I’m a sucker for flying wing designs.

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blight January 18, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Horten Flying Wing!

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stopsopandpipa January 18, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Have these ‘data links’ between uav’s and its operators been tested to prevent it from being jammed or can it be jammed? If it were up to me, I would secure the connection with some type of crypto and incorporate something like what HQ or SINGCARS uses and frequency hop.

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Nathan January 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm

The details would be classified. However there would be redundant communication systems in place.

Jamming is not a particularly big issue. If communication is lost for any reason, autopilot would enable, and there are a number of actions the aircraft could take:

1) Continue on with the mission using pre-programmed way-points
2) Abort the mission and return to base, or another pre-programmed safe haven
3) Circle until a reconnection can be made
4) Launch an HARM missile to destroy the jamming source (jammers are beacons and easily destroyed)

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ajSpades January 18, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Also be aware that with UAVs becoming more autonomous, there may be no need for a uplink (command channel) to the aircraft. Without a command signal going TO the aircraft (indeed, you could set the aircraft to shut off it's receiving command antennas) there wouldn't be signal to hi-jack.

To the argument that GPS signals could (and can) be jammed, bombing can still be done very accurately based off inertial navigation systems (INS).

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Sanem January 19, 2012 at 1:22 pm

here's my solution for Navy UAVs

- build carriers out of converted oil tankers: put a deck on them with a ski jump or some catapults (but that's more complicated), and plenty of room below to store them (and missiles and troops and what not)

you could argument that these ships would be less safe then if built to military standard, except the new RN super-carriers are being built to civlian standards to save money, so that's no argument

- design a STOVL tailsitter UCAV, jet engine or prop design, similar to the Convair XFY-1 Pogo or the Ryan X-13. it can take off conventially, and then land on its tail. any modern jet has enough power to hang in the air, so certainly they'll be able to descend slowly

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DennisJP July 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm

They can program in the mission to the UCAVS just like they program target info into tomahawk cruise missles.
The plane fly's out and does the programed mission and fly's back.

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Jeff January 18, 2012 at 12:07 pm

A lot of long term planning already have F35s slated to utilize their datalink to coordinate semi-autonomous drones. Its one of the impitus for the interest in a two seat F35. A squadron might one day become one or two human pilots and a number of drones.

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Black Owl January 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm

We have no money for the F-35s were trying to buy now. There's no way we'll be able to make two seater version and acquire that in any numbers to do anything with them.

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blight January 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm

"it would not require that much modification to do so"

If that were so, the two-seater -22 would not have been canned. There is more than meets the eye than lengthening an aircraft to add an extra seat to it.

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JRL January 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Maybe once delivers an F-35 that can actually trap aboard a carrier, they'll be able to devote some attention towards developing a two-seat version. Which will involve much more than the usual fuselage extension if they want to retain the vaunted stealth attributes.

BTW, am I the only one who notices the basic incompatibility between stealthy operations and the necessary emission of massive quantities of EMR data to a flock of UAVs?

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JRL January 18, 2012 at 2:19 pm

EDIT: "Maybe once *LM* delivers…"

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jumper January 18, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Typically they'll handoff the UAV to a ground station, probably in the States. As to the second part of your post… look what's already happened; Iran has one of our most advanced UAV's after the spoofed the GPS and/or jammed the datalink.

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blight January 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm

It might not make sense to have pilots dual train as UAV operators, especially if there is a sudden need for pilots while they are committed to UAV operation: do you just stop operating them or pull them from staring at a computer screen for hours and put them back into a c-pit?

If we go this route, we need a robust communications system that doesn't depend on satellite uplinks, because they will likely be occupied with whatever the Air Force has coming. The Navy might have use for pre-programmed aircraft for CAP to just engage aircraft that fail IFF challenges out to a certain range (and they have excellent endurance, so this frees up manned pilots for attack missions).

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@Kynth January 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm

They don't need to lengthen it, the A/C variants have space where the lift fan would live on the B variant behind the cockpit. The area doesn't have to be used to house a weaponised laser powered by the engine shaft.

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blight January 18, 2012 at 6:22 pm

So you're eating into the "promised space" that was one of the core features that helped sell LM's -35 vs Boeings -32? Much of the LockMart spin focused on how their LiftSystem was superior, *and* had the potential for that weaponised laser.

Of course, any two-seater is likely to ditch the laser space and be a "command JSF", so maybe it's doable. Alternatively, the variant likely to be deployed by CVNs will be the -C…

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jumper January 19, 2012 at 11:37 am

They don't have to be, but they will be… the O-corps will not relinquish flying duties to enlisted, even if it's remote control flying.

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Sanem January 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm

actually, Iran first said it shot it down. then it said it took over control and landed it intact. then it said it spoofed the gps signal to make it land by itself. their latest explenation involves alien space craft and tractor beams. and they have no intention whatsoever to build nuclear weapons

we do know for sure that spoofing the gps and jamming the datalink was not the cause, considering that every modern UAV is programmed for especially these eventualities: if the gps suddenly goes haywire the UAV will assume it is defect; if the data link is lost, it will fly a preprogrammed route, or return home using INS, which is extremely reliable and unjammable/spoofable btw

at worst, advanced UAVs are programmed to destroy themselves, for example by blowing of their wings and crashing into the ground. LMT has been building spy aircraft for over 50 years, so they know a thing or two about how to do it

or you could believe one of the many explanations Iran has given, a country known for its fake propaganda

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Sanem January 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm

the Air Force about a decade ago decided to use experienced Officer pilots to fly their UAVs, because they have a better situational insight

the Army chose to use NCO's, many of whom have never piloted an aircraft, and just automated the take of and landing processes, using systems that have existed for decades

net result: the USAF, with some of the best pilots in the world, has relatively more accidents than the Army that uses people who've never left the ground (so to speak)

oh and the USAF has trouble finding enough UAV operators, and has to spend millions retraining pilots when they switch back to manned aircraft

luckily in the Navy the generals are former ship Captains rather than pilots, so hopefully they'll listen to reason rather than ego

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RCDC January 20, 2012 at 12:33 am

Where do I sign in?

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blight January 20, 2012 at 3:51 pm

No Mrs right? Like people don't have affairs with married people.

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Mike January 23, 2012 at 11:47 am

Wrong….wrong…wrong. But who needs research.

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Larry February 21, 2012 at 4:45 pm

No need to house and feed the pilots. Shore duty is cheaper and easier for the pilots and families.

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