The Navy appears utterly incapable of learning. What lessons have we documented on this blog that have simply and thoroughly smacked the Navy in the face? How about this one, in particular,
Don’t try to combine disparate functions into a single platform. That just leads to a platform that can’t do any of the functions well, costs a fortune to develop due to trying to reconcile contradictory requirements, and delivers years late for the same reasons.
So, what is the Navy trying to do now? That’s right, they’re trying to combine intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) with tanking in the upcoming MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker. From a USNI News article (1) we see that the Navy dimly recognizes the problem and the inherent design conflict.
“The problem that industry and the service are dealing with is the ISR and the tanking mission inherently requires two very different types of aircraft shapes or planforms, Shoemaker [Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker] said.
A primarily ISR UAV would be a high-endurance platform “probably not carry a lot of fuel, have a large wingspan,” to be an efficient platform, Shoemaker said.
For example, the highflying Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton UAV is built with a 131 foot wingspan and can fly unrefueled for up to 30 hours.
“If you’re going to be a tanker at range, you’re obliviously going to have to be able to carry a fair amount of fuel internal to the platform. That drives the different design for those two,” he said.”
Okay, so the Navy sees the problem. It’s the same problem they had when they tried to combine three radically different aircraft into a single F-35 and wound up with a gagstaggeringly (you like that word?) expensive aircraft that has only 20% commonality and isn’t optimized for any of the individual roles. It’s the same problem they had when they tried to combine strike and fighter into a single F-18 Hornet and got an aircraft that was good at neither. It’s the same problem they had when they tried to combine three completely different functions into a single LCS and wound up with a toothless waste of a ship class that has yet to put to sea with any meaningful capability. And so on.
Having had these lessons stomphammered (I’m writing my own dictionary) home, what does the Navy decide to do about attempting to reconcile irreconcilable functions on a single platform? Do they heed the lessons? Do they do the smart thing? Do they demonstrate that they’re capable of learning? No, as evidenced by this,
”So the industry is working on an analysis of where that sweet spot is to do both of those missions.”
Sweet spot? There is no sweet spot! You’re combining ketchup and ice cream and thinking you’ll find the right mix that will taste good. It’ll suck!
Since the Navy is too stupid to learn a lesson, here is the proper approach.
Build a single function, stripped down, dumb as dirt, basic as you can get, tanker. It doesn’t need any military capability whatsoever. It’s a flying gas station. Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS). Build these for next to nothing.
Build a dedicated ISR aircraft that does one thing only and does it exceedingly well. Add no function that does not support ISR and keep it cheap. When combat starts, these things will get shot down like Junior guys asking Senior girls to the prom so make them cheap enough to be readily expendable.
This is just simple common sense. Don’t build a Formula 1 racer with a pickup bed so that it can haul cargo when it isn’t racing. It won’t do either job very well. There’s a reason why we build separate race cars and pickup trucks.
The Navy’s ability to shrug off lessons and learn nothing never ceases to stunfound (I’m on a roll) me and this is just the latest example. How the single digit morons running the Navy manage to get dressed in the morning is nothing short of a miracle – but I guess that’s what Admiral’s aides are for.
(1)USNI News website, “Navy, Industry Looking for Design ‘Sweet Spot’ for MQ-25A Stingray”, Sam LaGrone,