Wednesday, October 29, 2014


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?


  1. Given that a p-8 also unable ro defend itself from a enemy fighter, would you see it having the same limitations in a war?


    1. Mark, to an extent, yes. The P-8, though, will probably be used in conjuction with carrier groups, hence, receiving protection, or in limited geographical locations of strategic interest (straits, chokepoints, etc.) which would, presumably, be subject to Air Force protection. The P-8 would not be survivable wondering around the A2/AD zone unprotected on random sub hunts.

  2. The same arguments are valid of the U-2 and its modifications.
    Aircraft like the U-2 are still useful 54 years after Powers got shot down, imagine they stopped U-2 production over that incident.
    The BAMS is a sensor package carrier who can loiter a lot, that is useful for everything else then WW3.

    1. I stated in the post that the BAMS would be useful in peacetime. The question was how it would be employed during war?

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  4. Line of sight comm relay in day without space scenario

  5. Why, all the usual ISR missions of course. Come a shooting war every extra pair of eyes Mark 1 or electronic will be sorely needed and the States have got lots of coastline to cover. Who knows, maybe the Navy will be looking into replacing P-8s with drones in future, or retasking P-8s to ASW and handing off surface surveillance to these drones. This is a very logical developmental baby-step towards other kinds of Navy drones. No doubt operational info about seawater corrosion, sensor and avionics performance in various weather conditions at sea, etc. will also come in handy.

    "...the aircraft is not particularly stealthy, fast, or maneuverable and it has no air-to-air defense capability..." Same could be said of the Tiger Moth in WW2, and the Swordfish. Did fine patrol work nonetheless. In these kind of missions the key metrics are sensors and loiter time.


    1. SG2, one difference between a Swordfish of WWII and this BAMS is that no one, other than the crew, cared if a Swordfish was shot down. At $193M each, we probably do care if a BAMS is lost. Also, a Swordfish was relatively undetectable given that radar was non-existent or quite primitive and enemy air cover was sparse, at best. We're asking a BAMS to fly into an enemy A2/AD zone with extensive radar coverage and long range air and missile defenses. Quite a difference in survivability!

  6. You could say that a navy with global responsibilities could choice deploy assets like P-8 and BAMS away from high risk areas unless escorted.

    We have not mentioned UCLASS, if it ends up being moderately Steathly, I would see it having to be your primary ISR asset within your combat area.

    So many programmes, will they all get funded? Time will tell.


  7. A much larger long range surveillance radar is being developed for the P-8A as part of the plan for Increment 2 upgrade.

    The Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS) is a development of the APS-149 by Raytheon, suggestions that it advanced technology is would have the capability to replace E-8 Joint STARS. One of the reasons the P-8A is based on the longer fuselage 737-800 was to accommodate the length of the radar.

    As it must be a big ticket item it would tend to confirm your thoughts that the BAMS radar is relatively short range.

    Fuller write up and pics.

  8. 192m per aircraft ? airframe only and not ground station ? and this is pretty much subsonic non LO airframe that will loiter with active emmision making it the target of long range SAM or AAM ?

    how tough is the unmanned system remote control linkage assuming facing a peer / non goat herder / non pajama wearing enemies ? more iran style UAS hijacking ?

  9. "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. "

    These things look way to expensive for what you get. However,in general, I don't discount the role of something just because its vulnerable. Sometimes attrition units fit the bill, particularly if they are unmanned. The key is if they can deliver the info before they die, or if enough of them can.

    A PBY would get hammered by Zeroes, but we had them looking for the Japanese battlegroup as it sailed towards Midway, and they provided good data.

    1. Jim, see my reply to SG2, above. The PBY was effective because it was survivable. It was not flying against radar or long range air and missile defenses. It could literally hide in the clouds! A BAMS has limited survivability (hide-ability is, maybe, a better word) and we're going to ask it to penetrate a radar saturated, air and missile defense zone? That's a potentially very short lifespan at $193M each!

    2. "and we're going to ask it to penetrate a radar saturated, air and missile defense zone?"

      I cannot remeber someone askng the same of the U-2 , yet the aircraft serves on after so many years and probably will serve on more.

    3. Storm, you're missing several points. The BAMS is designed for the Chinese A2/AD scenario and the post specifically asks what the wartime CONOPS for this will be. The U2 has not been used for wartime ops against a peer. Further, the U2 is a fast (500 mph, IIRC) ultra-high altitude (70K-80K ft, IIRC) aircraft which makes it inherently difficult to intercept and, thus, quite survivable. The BAMS is none of that.

      Further, the U2 is capable of flying directly over enemy countries due to its inherent survivability and the BAMS is completely incapable of that.

      As a side note, two U2s have been shot down and that's without being used in a major war.

    4. I agree with you in part. Or was at least trying to. :-)

      Its ridiculous that these things should cost around the same price as an F-35. Its staggering. I guess I'm dumbfounded that a follow on to an air force drone launched originally in '98 is this expensive. And it doesn't appear to make any attempt at being stealthy. Where has all the money gone?

      I guess my broader point was that an ISR aircraft at $5 million that wasn't all that survivable might be worth it. I mean, heck, stick a decent radar head on a tactical tomahawk and you might get better performance/cost value. (This is all just a mental expiriment, so don't analyze it too much. I'm just using it as an example.)

      Would it likely get shot down? Yup. Its not all that survivable. But it might last just long enough, and that might be worth it.

      It seems like we used to try to leverage existing platforms to get needed things: S3's for refueling, LANTIRN's on Tomcats, etc.

      Now we have to buy the gazillion dollar solution.

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    7. Hence, the question of the post.

    8. B.Smitty: "A handful of BAMS can provide a wide-area sensor, 24x7 persistent orbit 2000nm from their airbase. Good luck doing that for less with any other platform short of an airship or satellite."

      Well, you bring up a fascinating point. What is the cost of providing that 24/7 monitoring? At $193M each for a "handful" of BAMS (I think I've read that five are required for each orbit?) that's a cost of $1B to monitor a single, relatively small area (relative to the entire Chinese A2/AD zone, for example) plus the cost of the ground control station and personnel (everyone discusses these aircraft as unmanned but that's not true - they're just remotely manned). That's an enormous cost for monitoring a single area.

      If the premise of the post is correct, that these aircraft have only a marginal usefulness in war, then that's an enormous cost for marginal usefulness.

      You've raised a great question!

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    10. "Of course that does not account for hostile enemy action."

      Yeah, I'm guessing that during a war, China would offer some sort of military objection to our casually flying a surveillance aircraft around the A2/AD zone. Hence, the point of the post.

      I see no reasonable wartime CONOPS for this thing that can justify its cost.

      Vague assertions that we'll provide defense for it are just that. Vague and worthless. We're not going to provide F-22/35 escorts - I'm guessing that in a war those aircraft will have other, more pressing duties. That leads me back to no realistic CONOPS.

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  10. One question that was not raised, what is the supposed life time of the BAMS airframe, if it is something in the range of 25+ years, the price is kinda justified ? Any ideas.

    1. Storm, that's a very good question that, unfortunately, I don't know the answer to. I'll keep looking.

    2. Storm, I came across a piece of information that stated the aircraft was rated for 51,000 hrs of flight. That's 2,125 days (24 hour continuous flight) or 5.8 years. Note that's continuous use as if it launched on day one and landed again 5.8 years later. Obviously, that's ridiculous. I'm unsure what that would translate to in terms of realistic usage.

      Just to make up something, if it flew two 24 hours missions a week, it could continue that pace for 1,062 weeks or 20.4 years.

      I'll keep looking for more info.

  11. Not every wartime mission / conops involves being shot at. As was mentioned earlier, we will not be putting P-8 into harm's way, likewise, neither will we put the MQ-4 out there.

    P-8 and BAMS (Triton?) work in concert with one another and it is a simple as maritime surveillance. That surveillance could be looking into an area prior to other forces go in there, sanitizing, and/or plain surveillance of what is going on either over the water or on the land. There is always comm and D/L relay to be considered, missions like these are either done at the edge of a contested area or in an area where we have superiority.

    Short answer is, there is a lot to be done in a wartime conops that does not involve being in a weapons engagement zone; P-3 has carried out this role for many years.


    1. If the BAMS is intended to provide surveillance around the periphery of the battle zone (and with a 1000 nm Chinese A2/AD zone, that's a lot of zone that the aircraft would be excluded from!) do we really need a $193M aircraft or would something much less expensive do?

      The P-3 has NOT carried out a wartime surveillance role against a peer.

      Certainly, the BAMS (or P-3, or P-8) could perform useful surveillance in non-combat areas, as you suggest, but then I ask, again, why do we need a $193M aircraft to monitor non-combat areas?

    2. Probably because it is cheaper and more flexible in the long run compared to a sattelite , for every other mission then WW3.

      I just remebered the article AW run on the " RQ-180 " maybe there is a stealthy long range UAV out there already operational ;) or will be in the near future.

    3. CNO ... So what are you suggesting, arm the P-8 and Triton with A/A and A/G weapons?

      I do not think a single soul ever thought of a P-8 or Triton operating in a contested area unescorted; not a CONOP.

      Triton is this, a force multiplier, the P-8 can not stay on station long enough to provide the proper presence required. Very useful role of a UAV is just this, provide persistence and presence over long durations, bring in the manned asset when required.

      Without arguing why we bought the P-8 if it can not provide the same presence as the P-3, Triton and P-8 seem to be a viable solution and entryway in to manned vs. unmanned employment and utility. Are we using Triton to fix the shortcomings of the P-8, perhaps.

      Short of the 1000nm standoff scenarios, P-8 and Triton CONOPS do make sense and are really very similar to how we effectively operate and utilize P-3s today. Is it the best solution and use of tax payer money, probably not. But it is a viable solution that appears to have been thought through, yes. Alternative would have been to double the order of P-8s and the associated maintenance and manpower requirements that come with a 2x force increase.

      Time will tell how this plays out.

  12. My reference to the Swordfish, and others to the PBY Catalina, is to highlight that ISR roles call for different capabilities to shooting platforms, such as operational range and loiter time.

    Being pilotless is precisely what will save lives in contested airspace. Being smaller it is inherently harder to acquire and target than a P-8, and when the time comes it will be cheaper to stealth a drone than to stealth a P-8. Being an alternative ISR asset to P-8 frees up P-8 for sub hunting. Being a drone it also has much lower operating costs and I believe faster production time. Again, all possible eyes are needed. In war and especially at sea, there's no such thing as 'in front of us' or 'behind us'.

    Yes, if a J-20 goes after a Triton it needs escorting fighters. This is the same doctrine for AWACS and J-STARs anyway so this limitation is no different from any other airborne ISR asset. The fighters are not redundant as they would probably also be performing CAP and scanning the skies not the seas. And word of advice, you can bet every last dollar that you will never know the real ranges and capabilities of these assets.

    I repeat, it's a logical step towards developing even more advanced maritime drone applications for the Navy such as for fire control which would be invaluable. I thought it was a key tenet of this blog that weapons development should be step by step and not make great leaps forward?

    And lastly, 193M a copy for total program cost isn't unduly expensive. The P-8 program officially cost 33 Billion and how many are in service? How many will be bought? I can understand the concern for cost, but CNO, at some point in this particular game, you pays your money and you takes your lumps. The days of sending out a squadron of PBYs to look for carriers are over. These days you need to spend on sensors and scrimping will be deadly.


    1. "My reference to the Swordfish, and others to the PBY Catalina, is to highlight that ISR roles call for different capabilities to shooting platforms, such as operational range and loiter time."

      The number one attribute is survival. The days of sending out Swordfish and not caring whether they return as long as we get a contact report are gone. At $193M each this aircraft must get more than one sortie before it's killed.

      "Being smaller it is inherently harder to acquire and target than a P-8"

      The MQ-4C is shorter than a P-8 but the wingspan is several feet longer. Not exactly a small target!

      "I repeat, it's a logical step towards developing even more advanced maritime drone applications for the Navy such as for fire control which would be invaluable. I thought it was a key tenet of this blog that weapons development should be step by step and not make great leaps forward?"
      Where did that come from?? Do you think I'm advocating terminating the program? I simply posed the question, what's the wartime CONOPS. That's a very reasonable question to raise - especially since the usage is questionable - especially since we built an entire LCS class without a CONOPS. It's quite reasonable to raise the question. That doesn't mean I want to terminate the program. I might or might not, but nothing in the post said or implied that. Also, I've read nothing that suggests the MQ-4C is any type of planned step on the road to some future fire control system. If you want to question me, feel free - I encourage it - but do so over things I've actually said!

      As far as cost, if we have a CONOPS that ensures a reasonable chance of survival, coupled with an effective use, then the cost may well be justified. On the other hand, if we wind up losing these things right and left due to poorly thought out (or non-existent) CONOPS, then the cost is prohibitive. It all comes down to how they'll be used. Hence, the point of the post!

    2. Just to see the cost comparison between platforms ...

      Price/Unit Cost: The unit cost of a P-8A Poseidon is $179.81 million (flyaway cost in FY 2014). Of this amount, the airframe - including the two CFM56-7B engines - makes up $139.46 million while the avionics package costs $33.23 million.

      Program Cost: The total procurement cost of the P-8A program is $26.34 billion (estimated by the DoD) + $8.19 billion in research and development (RDT&E) funds, which means the total estimated program cost is $34.53 billion (numbers are aggregated annual funds spent over the life of the program and no price/inflation adjustment was made). This figure excludes military construction (MILCON) costs in support of the program in the amount of $400 million.

      Price/Unit Cost: The unit cost of the Navy's MQ-4C Triton is expected to be $131.75 million in FY 2016 when purchases begin (flyaway cost).

      MQ-4C Program Cost: The total procurement cost of the MQ-4C Triton program is $11.38 billion (estimated by the DoD) + $3.56 billion in research and development (RDT&E) funds, which means the total estimated program cost is $14.94 billion (numbers are aggregated annual funds spent over the life of the program and no price/inflation adjustment was made). This figure excludes military construction (MILCON) costs in support of the program in the amount of $329 million.

  13. Its utility during war may be deeply limited, but its utility for war could be incalculable.

    Knowing where the other sides pieces are on the board before the game starts being just one advantage. Years of communications intercepts, radar intercepts, procedure monitoring and access normalisation.

    What does a Chinese frigate look like through an IR camera after moving at 30knts for an hour, for three? Handy to know that for your ir guided missiles

    1. I do not doubt the value the information an effective ISR asset can bring to the wear fighter. Every military action in recent times as shown that demand for the information that comers from 24/7 situation awareness is unlimited.

      But are you sure that Frigate is Chinese, and not Vietnamese? Is it even a Frigate.

      I suspect to positively identify your target even by electronic signature your are going be need to be closer than the your radars maximum range. You may have a blip on the radar 250nm out, I do wonder how close we need to be be positive enough of our ID to start launching missile. Remember even at 250nm you are within range of modern long range SAM's

      In a world of extreme long range SAM's, is a large non stealthy aircraft really going to able identify your targets without being exposed to undue risk? I would argue it will be shot down the first time it finds a real target.

      While ConNavOps has inconstantly down played the value when used against fighter aircraft, when you look at effectiveness against large aircraft like bombers, cargo planes, jet airlines their effectiveness is vastly better.

      I just cannot see us using either P-8's, AWACs, Tankers or Triton's in Chinese controlled airspace, without some kind of escort. I also cannot see there being enough resources to provide these escorts.

      My solution to the problem:

      I have always had an idea that the navy should get on board with the Air forces new bomber project. Imagine a B-2 like plane set up as a maritime surveillance/strike aircraft. You have the range and endurance you need to go out and locate enemy ships and destroy them. Survivable enough to to come back and do the job again. You probably do not need a large number.


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    3. Mark, very good comment! You're exactly right that there won't be enough escorts available (or any!) once a shooting war starts. All those F-22/35s will be totally committed to other, higher priority tasks.

      Your idea for a B-2 based ISR platform is intriguing and functionally on the money. However, the cost would be huge. Would it be worth it? That's something the military would have to game out. Fascinating idea!

      Nice contribution!

    4. B.Smitty, you just cut to the heart of the matter and the problem for those who dismiss the survivability question of BAMS by casually saying we'll provide protection. There is no protection possible. BAMS is intended to operate thousands of miles out for extended (the concept is 24/7 utilizing multiple aircraft) periods of time. As you point out, we don't have any escort aircraft that have the necessary range and endurance to provide 24/7 escort/protection a couple thousand miles out. I suppose we could set up an elaborate relay of F-22s using dozens of aircraft and tankers so that each aircraft could spend six minutes on station but that's ridiculous. Our entire F-22 force would be devoted to BAMS protection!

      You've gotten to the heart of the matter. How do we probe Chinese airspace with an easily detectable (non-stealthy and radiating) and unsurvivable aircraft that we can't provide effective protection for? And, if we can't probe enemy airspace, why are we building BAMS? Just for peacetime work? If so, is that worth the cost?

      Do we use BAMS in war and, if so, how do we protect it? If BAMS is not suited for war, what do we use? ISR bomber?

      Great recognition and statement of the problem. Now, what's your solution?

    5. I humbly submit the matter has two hearts.

      From what I can see, the Triton is based on the Global Hawk. It uses a very similar airframe. It uses a turbofan that is available on commercial jets. Its not stealth. Its not high performance.

      The only high priced technology I can see is in the actual software that makes it a drone; but the price for that should have been largely handled by the development of Global Hawk.

      WHY IS THIS THING MORE THAN AN F-35A?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

      Drone technology is neat, but not new, and hardly groundbreaking.

      We cannot, simply cannot, keep spending like this on military hardware. We MUST find cheaper ways to do this. What is the opportunity cost for 5 Tritons at a billion dollars? Especially in an era where we aren't keeping ships properly maintained and are retiring cruisers due to lack of money?

      Maybe someone with more acquisition cost knowledge can help me out here, but this price is ridiculous.

    6. Jim, well said and very passionate. People have started blogs for less reason than that!

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    9. B.Smitty, "The earlier Global Hawk buys were significantly cheaper, so the cost may come down somewhat in the future. I know CNO will disagree. ;)"

      I've been attempting to compile data for post on serial production cost effects for some time now. I honestly don't know what the data would show. I strongly suspect that it would show there is no demonstrable serial savings (any serial effect being swamped by other factors) but I would follow the data to whatever conclusion it leads to. The problem is that cost data is difficult to come by and is further obscured by the recent trends towards partial contracts (hull only, airframe without engine, govt furnished equipment, acceptance of incomplete ships with hundreds of millions of dollars needed to complete after delivery, etc.) and other near-fraudulent accounting practices. That makes comparison of recent costs to earlier costs almost impossible.

      The short of it is that I've been unable to assemble anything approaching a moderately complete data set that I'd be willing to draw formal conclusions from. I'll keep trying but it doesn't look promising.

      The partial data I have shows that with a very few notable exceptions, serial savings never materialize and that costs generally increase, even allowing for inflation. As I said, I can't substantiate that in a post that would be up to my self-imposed standards of logic and data.

      My personal conclusion is that serial savings may occur but are hugely swamped by other factors that increase costs like ever-changing requirements, design modifications, quantity reductions, etc. Anyone who attempts to defend a program on the basis of projected serial savings is ignoring the overall reality of acquisition.

      Take it for what it's worth!

    10. B.Smitty, "As I've said earlier, I don't see a way to provide a similar capability for less. CNO has raised valid questions as to its utility, but if you assume it remains a desired capability, it is the cheapest option."

      I don't believe that MQ-4C has to be the cheapest option. Here's a wild flight of fancy as a stepping stone to some other option. Jim mentioned a Tomahawk as a monitoring asset. Consider a Tomahawk airframe modified to simply fly from launch to an endpoint (no maneuvering or waypoints) and then loiter as long as it can until it crashes. Give it the best radar possible for the size of the airframe. Simple. Uncomplicated. Tomahawks currently cost a bit over $1M each. We could shoot 193 ISR-hawks into an area for the cost of a single MQ-4C. Now, none of them would come back but how many BAMS would come back from a deep penetration surveillance mission? If we could simplify the Tomahawk as I've described and we bought them in quantity, could we lower the cost to $500K? $100K? Maybe we could afford a disposable, deep penetration ISR vehicle.

      I once mentioned the concept of throwaway UAVs. This might be an example.

      If we can't make a deep penetrator that's survivable and affordable, maybe we should stop trying to make it survivable - make it one-way! No different than launching a weather ballon or sonobuoy or any of the other things that are one-way. It's just a matter of cost effectiveness.

      As I said, this is just an idea sparker so don't start telling me all the technical challenges with this specific idea.

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    12. B.Smitty, you're visualizing the ISR-hawk as a direct replacement for the Triton and it wouldn't be. It would not be a 24/7 surveillance asset. It would be for an area that we have a high suspicion of activity and we want to confirm and periodically monitor. It would provide a snapshot every few to several hours. For maritime surveillance, this should be adequate - a ship can't move that far in just a few hours. So, if we have reason to believe an enemy group is in an area of interest, we send a dozen or so ISR-hawks to get a location and then a stream of ISR-hawks spaced one every few to several hours to keep tabs on the group.

      For all the rest of the areas where we have no interest or reason to believe there is enemy activity, any old airborne asset will work. Sure, if the enemy suddenly moves into that area we'll lose an asset or two but if they aren't $193M assets, it's worth the price to get a flaming datum.

      An ISR-hawk would have fewer sensors and capabilities (no terrain matching/following, no imaging other than a basic radar, no multi-function warhead, no complicated fuzing, etc.). I don't see how that would not be less expensive. How much less, I have no idea. Plus, instead of buying a hundred Tomahawks a year, we'd buy a thousand ISR-hawks. That's some serious serial production and that alone would drive costs down to about $9.95 each, right? :-)

      Anyway, as I said, I don't want to debate an idea-sparker. The point is that maybe we need to take a different approach to collecting our surveillance than what we're doing now since what we're doing may not be effective and survivable in war.

      Satellite coverage would be nice but most of us have concluded that there won't be any satellites around after a war starts and any that survive will be dedicated to much higher priority work (like monitoring nuclear sites).

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    14. When I made my suggestion re a stealthy ISR Bomber, it was made knowing it would be extremely expensive option.

      You would use it just for penetrating controlled airspace, so yes unit cost of $1B per unit is my reasonable estimate, if you only but say 24, it can be affordable. I was think comparable to a carrier Battle Group.

      What are the other options, bring back the B-1R? Build a upscaled f-35? Even the cost of disposable penetrating ISR platforms is going get expensive if you assume a conflict lasting 6 months.

      These all sound like big cost options.

      The other advantage is with fewer Carrier Battle groups in the fleet and limited forward basing limitations, you also get prompt response.

      To me the only real alternative is to give up and say, sorry just too hard.


  14. "The number one attribute is survival."
    No doubt as far as survivability is concerned, F-22s/35s are king - small, fast, stealthy, armed with missiles. Yet they are not key players in the MPA game. AWACs, J-Stars, P3s and P8s, Nimrod, and many other ISR aircraft are much less survivable compared to fighters yet they do great work in the role. I think your metrics for what constitutes a good MPA craft need adjusting.

    I retract the one about Triton being small. It certainly isn't!

    "That doesn't mean I want to terminate the program. I might or might not, but nothing in the post said or implied that."
    Don't be specious. If you're not critiqueing the Navy's application and therefore acquisition of Triton then there's no real reason for your post now is there? We've all noted your strongly-held views throughout the discussion.

    "Also, I've read nothing that suggests the MQ-4C is any type of planned step on the road to some future fire control system."
    Nor did I explicitly state so (the key operator in my previous comment being 'such as') but you yourself posted on the Navy's network warfare drive, CEC is a thing, drone TA is a thing, do I have to spell out 1+1+1=3?

    I don't know for sure if drones are cheaper to operate than P-8s and J-stars. I strongly believe they are though. Anyway the CONOPS you keep calling for is simple - use it like any other MPA, like how P-8 is now being used. This frees up P-8 for sub hunting. When the shooting starts use it for suicide missions. Simple.


    1. SG2, I'll try one last time to help you understand the post. I see a highly capable and useful platform, the MQ-4C, that has what appears to be a severe limitation during war - it's easily detectable and not very survivable. Thus, it needs a carefully thought out CONOPS for use during war. I'm gravely concerned that the Navy does not have, and has not thought about, such a CONOPS. Without one, the aircraft is only marginally useful during war. I could not think of a viable CONOPS so I posted my reasoning and opened the question to readers.

      If there is no way to get effective use from BAMS during war then I'm in favor of cancelling the MQ-4C in favor of a much less expensive alternative. If we can get effective use then I'm in favor of continuing it.

      Hopefully, that clarifies the issue for you.

  15. CNO ... If your wartime CONOP is one that involves flight inside a contested area and within a weapons engagement zone, there is none and never will be one. Just like a E-2, P-8 and/or Triton are kept outside these areas or properly defended if inside.

    That does not mean there is not a wartime role, it does. But that wartime role does not include being shot at and having to provide defensive. Think surveillance, think SIGNIT, think comm (relay). All these things are very important to a wartime campaign, but does not mean having to maneuver and defend oneself from Surf/Air missiles.

    Lack of survivability inside a weapons envelope is not a factor for Triton, never has been and never will be; and frankly, given its role, no need for it.

    1. AJF, the problem is that given the modern range of missiles and aircraft (not to mention ship based AAW), that rules out most of the Chinese A2/AD zone - the very area we DO want to monitor. Your approach, quite reasonable, would limit BAMS monitoring to the outer edges of the zone which is of limited value - we have plenty of assets that can monitor the periphery. We need deep penetration ISR and I don't see any way BAMS can provide that and survive - that's the point of the post!

      If all we're going to do is monitor the periphery we can find any number of cheap, shorter range, smaller aircraft, land based radars, and small patrol ships that perform that function. We don't need a $193M aircraft.

      Do you see the problem?

  16. I do see the problem, that is the heart of A2AD, keep us out and if we do get in, keep us from operating effectively.

    Short answer is, I do not have one. Same problem you bring up with Triton is the same problem we have with the E-2 and tanker support, they cannot operate in a weapons envelope environment.

    The roughly 300nm stay out of bubble (until IADs is broken and air superiority is established) that we have had to work with is now 1000nm and a serious problem. If conflict were to start today, inside that bubble would only be platforms with survivability measures that provide acceptable risk of loss would be flying in there ... read fast and stealthy.

    No other answer right now ... So, why buy the Triton. Those fast and stealthy platforms will need ISR to do there job and in theory, will beat back the 1000nm bubble to 900, 800, 700 ... then the ISR assets like Triton will come in closer. Until then space assets and tactical ISR on the fast and stealthy platforms will be the only game in town.

    Do I see the problem, absolutely; Triton is not the answer, for this scenario.

  17. Anon
    Its not a wartime platform.
    Its a peacetime platform.
    During times if war, its only function is a decoy or a sacrificial snooper.

    During peacetime, it can fly up and down the 12nm border of a Chinese military port taking lots and lots of pictures.
    If a frigate flotilla pops out to sea, it does so under observation. If it does any sort of exercise, its observed. Everything from radio transmissions during vertrep to, well, I dont know.

    How do you tell if its a Chinese frigate or a Vietnamese Ro-Ro during warfare? You do your homework during peacefare. And that's what this us all about

    1. TrT, and if that alone justifies the cost then I'm all for it. I don't know if does or not. Only the Navy can make that determination, however, their record for good decisions is exceedingly poor!

      That still leaves the need for wartime, deep penetration surveillance. We're all assuming that satellites won't be around in a war with China so what does that leave? That's the problem - we don't seem to have a survivable, deep penetrating surveillance platform for war. I don't have any answers, just a clear recognition of obvious problems.

    2. Argh, stupid sign out button!
      A further point, given that regional war, even limited to an air sea conflict, will see tens of thousands of deaths, dozens of ships and hundreds of aircraft destroyed, thousands of hugely expensive missiles fired. Not to mention the economic costs when both sides resort to blowing up the other sides infrastructure.

      Is anyone going to count the cost (14bn?) of a drone fleet?

      As for do survivability and defendabiliy
      For survivability, are you thinking something like the blackbird? Super high and super fast? Essentially able to run faster than the missiles can chase?

      For defendability
      Every flight cannot be defended. But some can. If you know a drone is undefended, a single aged fighter can be sent to shoot it down.
      If, some, of them are mouse traps, that only appear undefended, well, that becomes a morale destroying lottery for the pilots sent to shoot down a drone who might be jumped by a Raptor.

      Send enough to shoot down a raptor and a drone, and you waste a lot of resources, and run the risk of a whole flight if raptors saying peekaboo and fucking you up.

  18. Man, on second thought it hit me on the head.
    Why does the navy do not give a damn if this ISR asset is not survivable during a teoretical shooting war with china?

    Because there are probably other stelathy high endurance and long range assets in service !

    Yeah, just think of it that way , the US has been and is the pioneer in stealth technology, from the 70 ties to this day.
    And only a handful platforms have been officialy discolsed to this day.

    But never has the US disclosed an stealth reconnaisance platform, be it manned unmanned, now in the case of the RQ-170 they weren't trying too hard to hide the thing operaring it from afghanistan, and the RQ-170 is rumored to be based on purpose on older stealth tech, just in the case one goes down, like in iran.

    So for the A2/AD scenario i would bet the US has some manned or unmanned stealth aircraft.

    Now the question is has the navy such an asset, because between the cancelation of the A-12 and the X-47B the navy did not " officially" field any LO aircraft.
    But the US navy is tight lipped when it comes to stealth.

    1. Storm, I honestly don't know if you're serious or being humorous. If you're serious, why would the Navy build a $193M Triton if they have a supersecret spy plane for the same mission?

      If you're being serious, it would be like saying that the LCS is so bad, the Navy must have an awesome, highly effective, super secret littoral combat vessel that actually works that they haven't told us about and the messed up LCS is just a cover for the real thing.

    2. I Think of it this way , the submarine and the air component of the navy work more efficient and economic, than the component who 'runs' the surface combatants.

      Sea Shadow, A-12 and X-47B are the only known Low observable programs
      And its not a joke, thaditionally the US navy has not been talking too much about stealth.
      Sea shadow, A-12 and X-47B are the only ones that are known to date.
      But common sence and logic tell that maybe they are some others .. operarional maybe ??


    That pretty much summes it up.

    Global hawk has turned into Triton, likey to see a " RQ-180" derivate in navy service ( if they are not already operating something like that from a land base ) .

  20. A 1000nm A2/AD zone seems a bit generous. HQ-9's advertised range is less than 150nm, and though a J-11 may be able to ferry 2000nm at max conserve, it will not be conducting combat air patrols at max range. Inside 300nm of the coast, the advantage is to the home team, 3-500 is very much contested airspace, beyond that is sanctuary.

    But let's say in the unlikely event of a war, the US cedes the entirety of the South China Sea out to the first island chain. BAMS will still be able to patrol 79.9% of the Earth's surface for enemy combatants and merchantmen.

    There are plenty of assets that are vital in wartime, but not used in combat.

  21. why not using satellite for the same purpose ? sure it is vunerable to attack by enemy but a UAS is even more vunerable than satellite surveillance ?

    and i have the same curiosity as commy here.. how this can be used in an event of war with peer enemies ?

    i wonder if higher ups approved the LCS debacle based on hubris and shortsighteness , also choose these concepts / expensive futuristic weapons that will be useless fast in next war.. sort of futuristic maginot line debacle..

    1. Satellites have deep limitations.

      They are very capable at looking at fixed points, at regular intervals.
      But they have little use as search and track assets.
      They either see really well for a tiny period, which makes them avoidable, or they see poorly all the time.

      The Soviet Backfire Regiments placed little trust in RORSAT to locate carriers

  22. Interesting article popped up yestreday in AW :

    So basically its going to be stealthy UAVs for the 2A/AD scenario.


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