A word of explanation: This post is inspired by discussions of the BAMS aircraft in a previous post. It is in no way an attempt to slam the commenters or embarrass them. Quite the contrary. Their input, whether I agree or disagree with any particular point, is valued and, in this case, is directly contributing to a better blog and more interesting and educational reading. I thank all who commented on BAMS.
The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program is described in the FY15 Budget Highlights book from the Navy,
“MQ-4 Triton system development and demonstration continues in FY 2015 to provide a High Altitude-Long Endurance Unmanned Aircraft System designed to provide persistent maritime ISR of nearly all the world's high-density sea-lanes, littorals, and areas of national interest. Envisioned as an unmanned adjunct to the P-8A MMA, and crucial to the recapitalization of Navy's airborne maritime ISR capability, the system will seek to leverage maritime patrol and reconnaissance force manpower, training and maintenance efficiencies. The Triton UAS air vehicle features sensors designed to provide near worldwide coverage through a network of five CONUS and OCONUS orbits, with sufficient air vehicles to remain airborne for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, out to ranges of 2,000 nautical miles. Onboard sensors will provide detection, classification, tracking and identification of maritime targets and include maritime radar, electro-optical/infrared, and Electronic Support Measures systems. Additionally, Triton will have a communications relay capability designed to link dispersed forces in the theater of operations and serve as a node in the Navy's FORCEnet strategy.”
The annual GAO assessment of weapon systems (GAO-14-340SP) offers this description of the BAMS program.
“The Navy's MQ-4C Triton is intended to provide a persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability even when no other naval forces are present. Triton will operate from five land-based sites worldwide as a part of a family of maritime patrol and reconnaissance systems that recapitalizes the Navy's airborne ISR assets. Planned improvements include a signals intelligence capability and an upgrade to the systems communication relay. The Triton is based on the Air Force's RQ-4B Global Hawk air vehicle.”
The same GAO report cites a program unit cost (including R&D) of $193M per aircraft with a total acquisition of 70 aircraft planned.
The specific sensor package and range is unknown. Given the small size of the aircraft and its radar compared to, say, an E-2C Hawkeye, it can be surmised that the sensor range is on the order of a hundred miles or less. The Air Force Global Hawk from which the Triton is derived, is credited by Wiki with a radar sensor range of 62 miles. If someone has a definite source for the sensor range, let me know.
|BAMS - What Role In War?|
The key to the rest of this discussion is my assessment of the sensor range. If I’m significantly wrong and the sensor range is significantly greater (meaning on the order of 250 nm or more) than the premise of this post is wrong.
So, with that general description, the question now becomes, what will the aircraft provide during war? What is it’s Concept of Operations? It’s clear that such a surveillance capability would be useful during peacetime activities (I’m ignoring the cost-benefit aspect, for the moment) but what can the aircraft provide during war?
For starters, consider that the aircraft is not particularly stealthy, fast, or maneuverable and it has no air-to-air defense capability. Thus, it’s what we might call a target drone if an enemy detects it. So, how does this aircraft operate during war? If it has to approach within one or two hundred miles of an enemy asset in order to detect it, it will have a very short lifespan for the reasons listed above.
We could provide an escort of F-22s or F-35s but what would be the point? Supposedly the F-22/35 can provide the required sensing if they’re in the area anyway.
We could keep the BAMS safely behind our “lines” but, again, what’s the point? We know what’s behind us. What we want to know is what’s in front of us.
We could restrict the usage to within areas protected by airbases or carrier coverage but we already have AWACs and Hawkeyes in those areas so what’s the point.
We could attempt to provide saturation coverage of enemy airspace through sheer numbers under the philosophy that the enemy can’t find and shoot down every BAMS if we have enough of them. However, at $193M per copy, we won’t be able to afford that approach for very long.
You see the problem? I can’t come up with a wartime scenario in which the BAMS will prove useful and survivable. So, what is the concept of operations (CONOPS) for this aircraft during war?
I’m opening this up to readers. Anyone have any ideas how to utilize this aircraft during war?