Sunday, October 8, 2017

MQ-9 Reaper Shootdown

By now, you’ve probably read about the shootdown of a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper UAV over Yemen.  The event has been confirmed by U.S. military officials (1). 

Why is this of significance to a Navy website, you ask?  Well, I’ve repeatedly harped on the theme that our planned surveillance and targeting platforms such as UAVs, P-8s, and other large, slow, non-stealthy aircraft are not survivable and, as such, will be unavailable to perform their tasks in a peer war.  If some low end threat in Yemen can shoot down a top of the line UAV, what will China or Russia do to our UAVs and patrol aircraft?

MQ-9 Reaper

I’ve repeatedly told you to turn this situation around.  If Chinese or Russian large, slow, non-stealthy UAVs or patrol aircraft were attempting to surveil or target our forces, would we allow it?  Of course not!  And yet we think we’ll be able to conduct surveillance and targeting of them, unimpeded. 

We need to recognize this inherent flaw in our thinking and rectify it or we're going to be fighting the next war blind.


(1)Defense News website, “US MQ-9 drone shot down in Yemen”, Shawn Snow, 2-Oct-2017,


  1. I would hope the P8’s would be focused on home front ASW near US shores—thus leaving major ASW ships and subs for overseas deployment.
    A greater fear is for the Marines. The predator is dozens of times stealthier than an osprey.

    1. "hope the P8’s would be focused on home front ASW"

      John, recall that the operational plan for the P-8 is to team them with the MQ-4C Triton UAV for the Navy's complete Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) concept. THIS IS THE NAVY'S PLAN FOR LONG RANGE, WIDE AREA SURVEILLANCE! The Navy envisions the P-8 as being not only forward deployed but well forward! I just don't see it as being viable or survivable.

      China is developing long range missiles specifically to kill large, slow, non-stealthy high value aircraft like E-2C Hawkeyes, P-8s, tankers, and the like.

      If we pull P-8s back, what will we conduct surveillance with?

    2. The Triton is a nice peacetime spy platform but it too shall be a prime target in actual warfare. It is a huge drone.
      A platform for surveillance must be stealthy or disposable or insanely fast. The x-47 the Navy wants for a tanker—a very limited tanker—would be better. A drone with a cost equal that of say a Cessna 172–quarter million or less—would also work as we could lose and easily replace it. A Triton is 120 million dollars and the size of a business jet. I have not seen a range for the Triton’s sensors just bragging about the swath of sea it can scan. If the radar has a 1000 mike range it will be fine as it will be out of missile range. But chances are it’s more like 300 and therefore a good target.
      In true peer warfare, it would even be reasonable to make one way drones out of older tomahawks as even a million dollar missile—perhaps retaining a small warhead for kamikaze Work—makes sense. For the price of 10 tritons you could have 1200 tomahawk recon/attack one way drones .
      Or better still, invest the same money into USV’s which are stealthier. Or into micro-satellites that replace old big spy satellites with hundreds of small one to give real-time imagery without having worry about satellite position or orbital time because there’s always two or three overhead.
      Or the Navy just admit they aren’t really trying to be the Navy of a real super power and just want to be a really big Coast Guard catching drug dealers and not preparing to fight a war against a real opponent...sorry, lapsed into curmudgeon mode there at the end.

    3. "chances are it’s more like 300 "

      No! I've addressed this recently. Claims from manufacturers of 200-300 mile detection capability is based on ideal conditions: perfect weather, calm seas, a large non-stealthy target, optimum radar height, no ECM, etc. A stealthy or even semi-stealthy naval vessel smaller than a supertanker in realistic weather and sea states is not going to be detected at 200-300 miles. Detection is going to be more like 50-100 miles, at best. Don't get sucked in by claims.

    4. Which means Triton is $120 million dollar target drone.

    5. John,

      That's an interesting idea for a recon Tomahawk. The navy is already very familiar with them and there are a lot of ships which can launch them. Being "disposable" makes a lot of sense for peer warfare. We'd know our costs going into battle instead of "oh crap, we just lost another $120 million Triton".


  2. CNO, this reminds me of your P-8/PBY post a while back, that highlighted the horrendous attrition rate of WW2 maritime patrol aircraft. Whatever we use in that role needs to be cheap and simple enough that many can be lost without it being a catastrophe.

    1. You understand it! If we're going to use non-survivable platforms then we need to be able to produce enough to replace our losses without impacting surveillance effectiveness. Attrition is one strong argument for unmanned platforms. In WWII, if we lost a plane we also lost a trained crew. With UAVs, we can lose the aircraft without losing trained crews.

    2. Well, realistically, if we need to, we can produce P-8s at a rather insane rate. Boeing can produce ~60 frames a month. The limit is likely to be outside of the frame construction.

    3. "if we need to, we can produce P-8s at a rather insane rate. Boeing can produce ~60 frames a month"

      I'm not sure that's true on a sustainable basis. We might be able to produce the airframes but they contain a lot of highly sophisticated and advanced electronics which likely cannot be produced at that rate on a sustained basis.

      Regardless, as I pointed out, the loss of trained aircrews is the limiting factor. Even if we could produce 60 complete aircraft a month, we could not produce 60 trained aircrews a month. That kind of ASW and surveillance takes years to acquire proficiency at.

  3. But the solution to this problem is so obvious to the MICC.

    Make ALL drones high tech super stealthy!

    Even if they wind up costing as much as an F-22 they will be worth it since there is no aircrew risked!

    Time to by stealth drone stocks!

  4. Unrelated news, this just came out. More evidence of rot inside USN....“I just pray we never have to shoot down a missile from North Korea,” a distraught sailor lamented, “because then our ineffectiveness will really show.”

  5. Wow. You are making gross over simplifications.

    Reaper and P-8 aren't even close in terms of speed, altitude or maneuverability. A Reaper is roughly comparable in flight characteristics to a WW1 biplane.

    As for how P-8 will be used - again study up on how MPA were used in Cold War. Plenty of ASW took place in open ocean far from land and sea threats.

    1. "Wow. You are making gross over simplifications."

      Yeah, that's kind of what one has to do in a post that's only a few paragraphs long! I depend on the intelligence of the reader to fill in the details and nuance. Did I lose you in the post?

      "study up on how MPA were used in Cold War. Plenty of ASW took place in open ocean far from land and sea threats."

      And if we fight the Cold War again, I'll re-evaluate my position. If we refight the Revolutionary War I'll definitely have to re-evaluate my positions.

      Have I ever said that a P-8 has no purpose, whatsoever? No. What I've said is that the Navy's plan to use the P-8 and UAVs as forward sensors for distributed lethality, among other uses, is not viable due to the inherent non-survivability of the platforms. You really need to read the posts more carefully and maybe take notes while you're at it to help refresh your memory when you write a comment. I find notetaking helpful and I'm guessing you will, too!


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