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Video: Drone Landing Shows Carrier Relevance

by Brendan McGarry on July 12, 2013

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said this week’s first-ever landing of an experimental drone on an aircraft carrier shows how the nuclear-powered fleet will remain relevant for decades to come.

The X-47B unmanned aircraft’s arrested landing aboard the USS George H.W. Bush on Wednesday in the Atlantic Ocean was the “winning argument” in the debate over whether the Navy’s fleet of nuclear-powered carriers are too vulnerable to anti-ship weapons and other technology, according to Mabus.

“It was a historic moment for aviation, a remarkable achievement of naval power and a powerful demonstration of why aircraft carriers will remain relevant and critical to America’s future naval supremacy,” he wrote in an op-ed published yesterday in The Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

The drone, one of two prototypes built by Falls Church, Va.-based Northrop Grumman Corp., completed two carrier landings and takeoffs aboard the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier. A third planned touchdown was aborted after one of the aircraft’s navigational computers failed.

The event was the culmination of a development program called the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator, or UCAS-D, which has cost about $1.4 billion over eight years.

“It has been one of the Navy’s most successful, meeting all required objectives within budget and on time,” Mabus wrote.

The effort was designed to demonstrate the technology’s potential and pave the way for a larger program, called Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike, or UCLASS, to build an armed, carrier-based drone fleet.

The Navy wants to add operational drones to air wings in 2019 to extend the range of carrier groups. Unmanned aircraft can stay aloft for more than a day — three times longer than manned planes. The systems will be initially used for surveillance and refueling missions, and eventually for strike operations.

“The operational unmanned aircraft … will radically change the way presence and combat power is delivered from aircraft carriers by conducting surveillance and strike missions at extreme distances and over very long periods of time,” Mabus wrote.

Unmanned aircraft will put fewer sailors and Marines in harms’ way, expand action further from the ship and create efficiencies in part because they don’t require flights to keep pilots proficient, according to the Navy secretary.

“Not only will the future carrier air wing be more combat effective, they will cost less to build, and less expensive airframes mean we can build more and use them differently, like developing swarm tactics and performing maneuvers that require more g-force than a human body can withstand,” Mabus wrote.

Still, the Navy’s top civilian acknowledged that carriers face numerous threats.

“Potential adversaries are developing more advanced anti-ship cruise missiles and ballistic missiles for targeting ships at sea,” he wrote. “However, these same missile technologies pose a greater threat to immobile airfields ashore.”

He added, “Targeting information for fixed shore bases is relatively easy. A moving carrier far at sea is a much harder problem for our adversaries to solve, and our advancing electronic warfare capabilities make it even harder.”

The Navy plans to issue a draft request for proposals for the first phase of the UCLASS program in August, followed by a formal request to start the competition next year. The service would pick a single winner by the end of 2014.

Northrop Grumman is expected to square off against other defense giants for the work, including Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. Lockheed Martin is pitching the Sea Ghost, Boeing the Phantom Ray, and General Atomics the Sea Avenger.

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{ 90 comments… read them below or add one }

STemplar July 12, 2013 at 4:23 pm

I don't think there is a question that carriers are relevant and very useful. The real debate is how many? Should resources be shifted to different platforms. If you're talking dealing with access denial then you are talking SSGN. In addition the whole idea of UCLASS is clearly in its infancy. This is the starting pistol shot, just as the Predator was in 2001/2002, with the first operational use of the UCLASS I would expect and explosion in ideas and follow on systems/platforms. Perhaps even hulls specifically built as drone carriers. Its clear the system is going to drive alot of rethink in naval operations period and not just NAVAIR.

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USS ENTERPRISE July 12, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Do you remember that Tom Clancy novel in which Japan acquires nukes? Mind you, it is fiction, but it shows how much power is invested in a carrier, and what happens when we have a few carriers down. The current number (I am going to count the Ford as active, though it isn't) seems fine to me; at least one carrier is stuck in a dry dock, getting its reactor refueled. One or two are in homeport. The rest are on patrol. Sounds pretty good, but any number lower, and we are risking our power projection.

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Rest Pal July 12, 2013 at 7:18 pm

The question of how many depends on who your enemy is. If it's Afghanistan or Somalia, the number is 0. If the enemy is Russia or China, then it will depend on what type of war the US will be engaging in – if it's nuclear, than 0; if it's conventional, then the number of will probably be in the range of 500 – 1000, plus a war time production rate of 5-10 a month to replenish the sunk ones.

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USS ENTEPRISE July 12, 2013 at 8:45 pm

…….Supposing any "sink".

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tiger July 13, 2013 at 6:49 am
USS ENTERPRISE July 13, 2013 at 12:57 pm

No one has that capacity. 1,000 carrier. How much displacement of water would that create?

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blight_ July 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm

It would depend on the specific gravity of a carrier, and then converting appropriately. If a carrier were the same density as the water it must float in, it would have a volume of 94 million liters. It must have much less density (through much greater volume) than that, otherwise the flight deck would be very, very wet. Still need specific gravity to accurately estimate the under-the-waterline volume.

Andy July 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm

1000 Gerald R. Fords? Better call the draft board, we need 5 million sailors.

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tiger July 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm

We don't have the $$$$ for a force like that. With no yards to build them anyway. Forget the draft. Non issue….

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Steve B. July 13, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Possibly a poorly phrased comment as I believe he was talking about 500 – 1000 drone aircraft, not aircraft carriers.

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Rest Pal July 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

My apologies for the confusion. I meant 500-1000 carriers. 1000 drones wouldn't be enough for a war against a small country like Vietnam. The US lost thousands of aircraft in the Vietnam War.

Iknowit July 13, 2013 at 7:12 am

Question you miss is what does this mean to future carrier design? Once (and if) piloted planes are gonewith know this is a long time out, but fun to think about

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Sword707 July 16, 2013 at 9:42 am

I say we take a page out of Japan's playbook and design submisable aircraft carries specifically tasked with carrying drones.

I think that be pretty badass, I be scared shitless if I saw a aircraft carrier appear out of the water and lunch a swarm of drones then disapper again and only resurface to retrive the drones after their missions over.

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blight_ July 16, 2013 at 2:24 pm

What would change?

Still need a place to launch and recover aircraft. It's probable we may return to a IJN-style multi-decker aircraft carrier. They had a top deck and a lower deck to increase their sortie rates…but the bottom deck was shorter, so could only launch lighter aircraft than the full-length flight deck.

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Mark July 15, 2013 at 12:12 pm

By law we are suppose to have 11 carriers.

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blight_ July 15, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Always wondered where that statement comes from.

There's nothing about it in the text of the appropriations acts. (per thomas.loc.gov); I am looking through the FY 2014 overviews to find more information.
http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2014/F

Indirectly, the DoD talks about "ships available for maintenance", and the indirect is "ships remaining out of those ships that are undergoing maintenance".

"The Navy predicts the required number of depot maintenance events (called “availabilities”) for each fiscal year by unit type (carriers, submarines and surface units) to ensure these critical evolutions are scheduled and funded. In FY 2014, this requires 4 carrier availabilities"

Which suggests that in FY 2014, 4 ships will go in for yard work.

And further down you find this tidbit:

Carrier Strike Groups 10

Which means the Navy is anticipating a 10 CSG navy (retirement of the Enterprise?)

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tiger July 15, 2013 at 12:48 pm

By law Obama care should kick in in 2014. By law Egypt had a coup…..

11 Carriers? Beyond the JFK replacement building, do not be so sure. The budget axe is more deadly than any torpedo.

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hibeam July 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm

I think the landing shows drone relevance. Nice try though.

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hibeam July 12, 2013 at 5:57 pm

It was considerate of the Chinese to not take control and buzz the tower. The temptation must have been overwhelming.

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blight_ July 12, 2013 at 7:01 pm

What are the supposed advantages of adding UAV's to the mix? Perhaps it's pilot turnaround, since you can have a group of pilots teleoperate the UAVs as-needed, then hand off to auto-pilot as needed. They might be smaller and perhaps more expendable, but aircraft aren't necessarily /easy to replace/. It isn't expendable until you can re-load.

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USS ENTERPRISE July 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Uhm, the fact that no pilot will be in danger from the enemy. Is that not reason enough?

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STemplar July 13, 2013 at 1:00 am

Range. Strike radius on a CSG tripled. Endurance with less effort for pilots. As the tech matures the sheer physics of what can be done in an unmanned platform vs. manned. They arent cheap but they are less expensive.

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tiger July 13, 2013 at 6:45 am

By deleting the human from the design? No need for life support systems
& ejection seats. More room for fuel, gear & ammo. Higher G limits. Less time carrier qualifying. Smaller air frame uses less hanger/ deck space. No POW's, No blood to wash off….

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Iknowit July 13, 2013 at 7:10 am

Is this drone remote control or not? I thought it was autonomou. So no remote pilots. Even still those pilots wouldn't need to be on the carrier

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STemplar July 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm

It has more autonomy potential but can be remotely piloted. It can execute a pre planned strike with little input or be constantly guided. The mission and theatre would determine which l would think.

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Guest July 12, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Now for some unmanned aircraft carriers.

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Rest Pal July 16, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Try to go for an unmanned US government first.

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Jacob July 12, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Couldn't drones also potentially make aircraft carriers obsolete as well? If the advantage of drone aircraft is that they have longer range and endurance, then why put them on a carrier when you can just attack from land bases at a distance? Land-based attack UAVs don't need to be hauled around on an expensive mothership and don't need ASW or Aegis-equipped escorts to follow them around.

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Ron July 12, 2013 at 9:13 pm

For absolute assurance, presence and verification.

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Josh July 13, 2013 at 12:27 am

Because the ocean is vastly larger than the range of a drone…

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tiger July 13, 2013 at 6:54 am

We still live on Earth. 3/4th off which is ocean. The USAF lacks friendly runways where you need them. To gain range, you give up payload for fuel.

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USS ENTERPRISE July 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Or, air-to-air refueling.

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Rest Pal July 19, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Or Harry Potter, after the tanks all get blown out of the sky by missiles.

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Rest Pal July 19, 2013 at 11:14 pm

meant to say the "tankers"

they are practice targets in a real war against a reasonably competent foe.

oblatt1 July 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Yes land based aircraft have dominated air combat in its entire history. Turns out that even with 2/3 of the earth begin ocean doesn't matter because apart form the parts near the land anyways nobody cares much about fighting over it.

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tiger July 15, 2013 at 11:24 am

Not true. There have been Naval Aircraft that can best land based birds. The sea matters a lot still.

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stephen russell July 12, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Heard on Hugh Hewitt 870 AM radio about making carriers smaller vs bigger IE rvive the Escort class carrier of WW2 again vs the Nimitz GH Bush size carriers & then museumize the Nimitz carriers for reuse

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PolicyWonk July 14, 2013 at 1:34 pm

There are quite a few defense analysts (a growing number) that believe that the day of the super carrier is coming to an end. They are incredibly expensive, and make for a very tempting target.

The idea being floated now is to move more towards USS America (LHA-6) sized carriers, and have more of them to better distribute our assets. These, in conjunction with ARG's, make for rather convincing argument to anyone who's shores hey are cruising off of that we're interested.

For serious blue-water battles – there's nothing like nuclear submarines – and their targets.

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tiger July 16, 2013 at 7:15 am

Nimitz class will be scrapped. Nobody can afford to maintain to Museum ships we have now. Let alone have dock space for a CVN. The Forestals & Kitty hawks are back logged now for breaking.

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Tweedle Dee July 13, 2013 at 1:12 am

I think we have reached the future! Next up, hoverboards!

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USS ENTERPRISE July 15, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Tweedle Dumb.

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Back to the future July 16, 2013 at 11:10 pm

Unfortunately, hoverboards don't work over water.

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majr0d July 13, 2013 at 3:12 am

The success of landing a drone on a carrier is no small feat but beware the snake oil salesman.

"Unmanned aircraft can stay aloft for more than a day — three times longer than manned planes. The systems will be initially used for surveillance and refueling missions, and eventually for strike operations."

Surveillance and refuel drones can fly slow and don't need to maneuver. Strike drones are going to have to fly with a significant load and very different flight profile. Speed and maneuver suck gas. They aren't going to achieve three times the endurance unless they are carrying a hand grenade or the performance of predator is adequate.

They also quite conspicuously ignore the enemy is going to try and shoot down and jam the drone.

Drones are good but watch the overselling.

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STemplar July 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm

They can be mid air refueled so they will have better endurance. You cant leave fighter pilots in the cockpit too long. I dont think anyone has ever said the enemy wont shoot at them but in terms of human life thats a plus not a minus l would think. In regards to jamming the enemy has to have a couple key things, knowledge its there and something to jam. One of the ideas was higher autonomy so that in essence its a reloadable cruise missile in the strike profile. Also like l said before this is the Wright flyer of carrier drones. Does anyone really think this is the end set of capabilities tech will produce? A drone that can perform high G turns that would black out a human pilot is not that far off. I think an air superiority model is ways off yet but certainly a high speed mule to say accompany F22s and act as a bird dog and extra AMRAAM magazine is doable as well.

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majr0d July 13, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Granted but the overselling is a fact. Fighter/strike aircraft autonomy is so far off there isn't even a realistic estimate on when we'll see it. We haven't developed ground vehicles yet that can pick their own path reliably and folks are talking about air to air combat?

If it's a question of getting HE from point A to B that sounds like a missile's job which is also much cheaper. Drones are great but we have to make them to fit the mission, not the other way around. Recon and refuel aircraft seem like a great job for drones. Strike aircraft? MUCH more demanding role. In many ways it's like creating "terminator" and we are nowhere near that kind of autonomy on the ground let alone the air.

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STemplar July 13, 2013 at 3:44 pm

By the same token no pilot in the loop opens opportunities for new systems that you wouldn't want ot toy with in a manned platform. I don't think its a coincidence the EMP testing on it was 10x anything conceived on a manned platform.

In regards to a missile being cheaper, perhaps for one mission, but given this can deliver 2 warheads precisely and be reloaded and a current TLAM JASSM option is about $1 million for one warhead. These are set for about $50 million each I believe, $150 million cap per persistent orbit which I think means 3 aircraft.

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majr0d July 13, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Strike/fighter drones aren't going to be $50 or even $150 mil each. Don't let the relatively cheap cost of the X47B fool you (under $15 mil a copy). The X47B was tech demonstrator exclusively focused on carrier ops. The program which has produced TWO aircraft went from $635 mil to an estimated $813 mil. That's over $400 mil per unarmed "test" aircraft THAT are going to be RETIRED. E.G. nothing else to teach us. That's pretty expensive.

It's largely a myth that drones are cheaper than manned aircraft after one computes the unique infrastructure necessary to operate drones.

This drone is subsonic and looks like a very scaled down B2. A drone that establishes air superiority or is capable of conducting strikes in highly contested airspace is going to look a lot different and cost exponentially more.

Again, drones are great. They do bring a unique set of capabilities and open doors but technophiles consistently overestimate how quickly or effective technology will be. Still waiting on powered suits…

tiger July 13, 2013 at 5:37 pm

We can kiss the U-2 good bye. A good thing after 60 years. Mission #1 I want the X-47b for is refueling. Next would be a early warning ability. The long loiter time is nice to have. Just need to figure how to lose the big dumb dish. #3 is a S-3 replacement.

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majr0d July 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm

The X-47B has a six hour endurance.

That's kind of my point. Mabus is talking about the Predator and Global Hawk and creating a link to the X-47B. It's like equating an F16 to a B52 when it comes to endurance. They are overselling.

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tiger July 13, 2013 at 8:02 pm

I'll take a 6 hr tanker.

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majr0d July 13, 2013 at 8:36 pm

We have one.

An F18E configured as a tanker (29k lbs fuel) has a 6hr endurance AND can defend itself. It can also be used as a fighter or strike aircraft.

tmb2 July 13, 2013 at 10:30 pm

They already tried to kiss the U-2 good bye with the Global Hawk a decade ago. The cost/benefit ratio couldn't justify scrapping the U-2 fleet.

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USS ENTERPRISE July 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Nah. We should have kept the SR-71s, though. (Pst, Aurora, will yah show up for once?!)

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tiger July 15, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Nice toy? Yes. Great engineering?Yes. Need a special bird, fuel & crew to take photos at mach 3? Not really in 2013. The U2 can go out to pasture as well.

EW3 July 14, 2013 at 7:53 pm

You are comparing apples and oranges.

You are comparing an already developed and built aircraft with already trained pilots and crews to new builds. Of course it's cheaper to keep the U-2s flying.

While the U-2 is a capable aircraft for certain missions, I don't recall they are building any more of them.

When they do I will concede your argument.

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tiger July 15, 2013 at 11:10 am

We do not need 60 year old planes to take photos. Like the SR. it will be put to pasture.

Warfiter July 15, 2013 at 6:15 am

I agee and also worry about the vulnerability of the long range communications links required for drones to operate at long ranges from their launch point. They are secure when the battle is against dudes wearing flip flops, but against a near-peer with growing ASAT and EW capabilities, there are also advantages to having a manned platform. Mitigation measures incude being able to deploy microsatellites from the same carrier for punctual mission support, using other air platforms to serve as re-broadcast stations, and developping the means for unattended systems to complete their missions entirely autonomously.

Some of these solutions are more achievable and palatable than others. The essence here is that a whole raft of supporting capabilities have to fall into place for drones to truly come into their own.

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hunter76 July 13, 2013 at 4:57 am

Drones are definitely the future. But they don't need nuclear carriers. Nuclear carriers remain much too juicy a target.

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tiger July 13, 2013 at 10:09 am

The issue is not being a target. The issue is cost. $100 billion. That is before adding a air wing, crew or escorts. That leaves little for the rest of the Navy

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goody July 13, 2013 at 10:31 am

The air force relied upon the navy, marines and army to secure fixed fields to sling B29s' at Japan WWII. Even then, the AF needed to get close enough for round trips.., thus Okinawa and Nagasaki, Hiroshima…, end of war. At the end, the navy, marines and army depended upon the AF to save asses. So.., they all needed each other to slam-bam.., for Uncle Sam…, game over.

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brownie July 14, 2013 at 8:44 am

The whole game plan is extended range sufficient to strike deep within the heart of China.

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PolicyWonk July 14, 2013 at 11:41 am

The X-47B unmanned aircraft’s arrested landing aboard the USS George H.W. Bush on Wednesday in the Atlantic Ocean was the “winning argument” in the debate over whether the Navy’s fleet of nuclear-powered carriers are too vulnerable to anti-ship weapons and other technology, according to Mabus.
========================================
Ok, I'll bite: How does landing a drone on a carrier demonstrate that a carrier is somehow less vulnerable to anti-ship missiles? How is this a "winning argument" of any kind?

I happily agree that demonstrating UCAV's can perform flight operations on a carrier is a serious milestone. But that (to me) has little to do with addressing vulnerability to anti-ship missiles.

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S O July 14, 2013 at 9:39 pm

They blew 1.4 billion bucks on it and didn’t even intend to get lots of actually combat-ready drones for it. They didn’t even plan to have a production-ready design. It’s all just experimental.

This is utterly wasteful. The Swedes or Israelis, event he Germans would have pulled off much more with the same money.

1.4 billion for this is really a subsidy of for an inefficient corporation, and much of the money will go straight into executives’ or shareholders’ coffers.

“(…)this week’s first-ever landing of an experimental drone on an aircraft carrier (…)”

I’m sure this is flat-out wrong. It’s even wrong if one ignores rotary aviation (there was a rotary drone in the 60′s!), for I recall photos of drones operating from carriers. This was at most the first autonomous drone landing on a carrier, and who cares about this autonomy? The landing approach is within visual distance, remote-control is easy technically!

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tmb2 July 15, 2013 at 1:54 am

The Swedes, the Israelis, and the Germans don't own an aircraft carrier.

This is the first time a UAV has done a trap on an aircraft carrier. Helicopters don't have to catch wires. Remote control is technically easy. Landing a plane on a moving carrier by remote control probably is not. BTW, all of our UAVs have automatic landing systems.

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Dfens July 15, 2013 at 7:31 am

The F-18 has had a mostly autonomous landing system for decades.

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Tony C. July 15, 2013 at 11:56 am

The drone's are a risk mitigation philosophy, if the didn't work then the US Navy didn't blow more than $1.4 billion dollars on a bad idea. Now that they are proven, the US navy can move on to the next program. Although $1.4 billion over 8 years sounds like alot of money, it is in line with other DARPA programs.

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hibeam July 15, 2013 at 11:56 am

Add aircraft carriers to the many things drones can land on or send to the bottom.

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dave July 21, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Interesting that it took off without the raising the blast shield. It's that SOP when aircraft is taking off so the jet blast doesn't blow crew people off the deck?

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STemplar July 13, 2013 at 8:33 pm

I certainly cant predict future costs and the prices cited arent for R&D. Im not getting into that unit/flyaway/life cycle cost discussion. The price l mention is whats drawn from the just released RFP for the UCLASS and what the USN wants to pay per orbit. Will there be overruns? Probably, pretty much isnt a program where there arent. Not really the issue. The issue is does the tripling of the unrefueled strike radius of the CSG constitute a dramatic leap in naval aviation. The answer is yes. Will additional R&D lead to enhancement an additional capabilities? Every weapon system they generally do , so lm going to assume this one will also. I would agree whatever capabilities are provided need to be cost effective.

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Guest July 15, 2013 at 8:43 am

If one thing brings down costs it's competition. That's what NG sees when it looks over its shoulder at Boeing with the Phantom Ray, LockMart with the Sea Ghost/Sentinel and General Atomics with the Sea Avenger. Let the price wars begin.

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majr0d July 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm

My previous post didn’t take. :( “does the tripling of the unrefueled strike radius of the CSG constitute a dramatic leap in naval aviation” I didn’t realize cruise missiles and ballistic missiles which have a greater strike radius than yet to be developed drones needed to be refueled?

Drones are great but what are we really getting? You can talk about tripling strike range but they carry a FRACTION of the bomb load of a manned strike aircraft. That seriously limits the types of missions they can execute and if you have to send more drones to do what a manned aircraft can do where do you park them on a carrier? Seriously, what kind of deal is it when you need almost half a dozen yet to be developed drones to do a slice of the Super Hornet’s repertoire? Drones are progress but they aren’t game changers once you get past all the flamboyant talk.

Drones should be developed but realistically they’ll be doing missions (e.g. refuel, recon, LIGHT strike) to free up manned aircraft to do the most important and dangerous ones which is kind of backwards if you think about it. That’s because the technology isn’t there and won't be there for two or more decades. The overwhelming majority of aircraft are going to be manned. Drones are cool but I’ll be excited when drones can deliver the same load as manned aircraft or can achieve air superiority.

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tiger July 15, 2013 at 11:16 am

It is not great tanker, more a make do choice. That cockpit & systems are taking up room that could be used for fuel stores. Defense inside the battle group is a non issue.

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majr0d July 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Granted but it's a better tanker than the X47 because of the exponentially greater fuel stores even with a cokpit (mispelled on purpose) and the offensive capability applies to other missions when it's not serving as a tanker.

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blight_ July 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm

If the environment becomes too hazardous for carriers, they will start using unmanned parasite fighters carried on ALCM hardpoints…or ALCM's even, for strike missions.

Or they will move in the carriers only after the conflict is largely decided (that is, after any threat has been neutralized).

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blight_ July 15, 2013 at 3:01 pm

I'm sure they will spin a story of:

"You only need one bomb…"

They may also be useful in maritime patrol. Tripling two-range point-to-point range means increasing the patrollable footprint from a 1*1 to a 5*5, or 25x the area. Or tripling the loiter time, which is always nice. I suspect there are a number of noncombat roles for the UAV, well before we send them into harm's way. I guess we could push a UAV COD aircraft and a UAV Hawkeye, let alone a buddy refueller…but those would be totally different programs.

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STemplar July 16, 2013 at 3:05 am

Where did l ever say manned aircraft are going anywhere? This platform will let a CSG will add some significant capability. A persistent lSR capability thats carrier launched. Strike from ranges without refueling that a CSG cant do now. Based on the testing l would expect a pretty serious non kinetic attack method you simply probably cant risk on a manned platform. Manned aircraft arent going anywhere soon but given enough time youll see more an more replaced with unmanned options.

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Sal July 15, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Not going to work. China has successfully developed ICBMs specifically for sinking carriers. These missiles are inter-continental in range.

Where are you going to hide the carriers? China's ICBMs cover the entire continental US.

I suspect you will be hearing about their anti-submarine ICBMs within 5 years.

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USS ENTERPRISE July 15, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Uhm, the US has ICBM coverage China as well. Also, while it is true that missiles are being developed by china to sink US carriers, tests concerning that missile are of it barely hitting a target in the middle of the desert. While it most likely has evolved since then, have you forgotten the ships that surround a US carrier?

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Sword707 July 16, 2013 at 9:36 am

I thought there was a ship within the carrier fleet tasked with detecting those kind of stand-off attacks?

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blight_ July 16, 2013 at 10:02 am

They have an ICBM with a conventional warhead that can hit a carrier-sized missile on the test range.

I'll believe it when it sinks a carrier underway, demonstrating their ability to combine a number of capabilities.

Of course, a surprise conventional BM attack on Pearl or San Diego…wonder if the fleet could get underway based on reduced shore-leave manpower levels.

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USS ENTERPRISE July 15, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Are you kidding me? Spy satellites can't be scrambled to stare at a Russian ICBM site, or a Chinese naval port. SR-71's, operating at altitude at Mach 3, could easily, and safely, get over there, take the pictures you want, cause a few UFO sightings, and come home. Canceling it what a mistake; the U-2, on the other hand, should have received the ax; not nearly as fast as a -71, which is what you need in quick surveillance.

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majr0d July 16, 2013 at 3:34 am

Never said you said manned aircraft was going away. My point was and has always been that drones are being oversold.

Persistent ISR? The X47B has a 6 hour endurance. Look at those drones that stay up for days. They look NOTHING like the X47B or the UCLASS concepts. Just imagine trying to fly a global hawk or predator off a carrier. There's a reason for that and part of the price is endurance.

Striking with a couple of 500lb bombs and I do mean a couple without refueling is not that big a deal. We've been doing it for over half a decade. We have refueling capabilities. We in fact launch Super Hornet strike elements with a Super Hornet configured to refuel and what do we get? EACH Hornet has over four times the bomb load! So to get the same effect we have to launch at least four drones for every hornet we send. The footprint of the X47B and the Super Hornet are almost identical. So you're giving up four hornets for four drones that carry a fraction of what Hornet carries. What a deal!

Sure, they might be sent into highly contested space (and potentially get shot down or hijacked like Iran did, BTW NOT a near peer). Still worth trying but all this flamboyant talk about "dramatic capabilities is snake oil. We'll of course never get to "Stealth" the movie type UAVs if we don't start now but we're a VERY long way from "revolutions", "dramatic leaps" or fielding drones that can take "high G's that would black out a pilot".

Let's pursue drones but don't drink the snake oil.

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blight_ July 16, 2013 at 10:02 am

We still have DSP satellites to detect ICBM launches. And amusingly, many GPS satellites have similar DSP equipment on them.

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Sword707 July 16, 2013 at 10:37 am

So bsaically this supposed carrier killer ICBM is so far good at hitting stationary targets that just sit there and take it up the ______.

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Rest Pal July 16, 2013 at 12:03 pm

They are designed to hit moving targets. The US doesn't know how China has done it so people here just assume that the ICBMs can only hit stationary targets.

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blight_ July 16, 2013 at 12:08 pm

During the Cold War we would've salivated to have that kind of CEP. But unless you can prove that your missile self-corrects or have excellent foresight on where it's going…

For instance, you could test a guidance system mode where the missile would randomly adjust its vector and be forced to self-correct; testing self-correction to hit a target will be critical to hitting moving targets.

I don't know if the carrier-killer is self-guided or uses satellites and "sensor fusion" to course-correct. If the latter, there is the possibility of EW attack. The former as well, but it'll be tougher.

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f1b0nacc1 July 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Another big piece of this is targeting. It is one thing to have a missile that can be fired and COULD hit a given target (and like you, I have some skepticism about that), and entirely another matter to actually find the carriers in question to shoot at in the first place. Even the biggest carrier is a very small needle in a very large haystack.

More to the point, these ISR assets are vulnerable to interference, misdirection, and destruction even when (and if) they do work, so it is hardly a "done deal" even if all the pieces are in place…

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blight_ July 16, 2013 at 11:13 pm

And stealth fighters are supposed to be invisible to radar; doesn't mean that they are in the real world.

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sailor25 July 17, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Actually stealth fighters are not supposed to be invisible to radar, only hard to detect for a narrow band of frequencies at a distance from an unsophisticated enemy. At least 7 countries have demonstrated capability to detect stealth planes like the B-2 and F-22.

US arms suppliers have a long history of inflating specs, while those in China have a consistent record of grossly understating the specs, only to surprise the enemy in an actual war.

Plenty of such examples in the Vietnam War alone.

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Rest Pal July 19, 2013 at 11:09 pm

The ships that surround the carrier? I suppose they should have enough room for the surviving sailors before they themselves are sunk but they are no help to prevent the carrier from getting hit by missiles flying in at Mach 4- Mach 10.

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