Wednesday, August 1, 2018

UAVs - Numbers Matter

ComNavOps has frequently pointed out the disconnect between the Navy’s dependence on UAVs for reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeting and the utter lack of survivability of UAVs over a modern, peer-contested battlefield.

For example, the Navy believes that individual ships with very short range sensor suites, like the LCS, will be able to conduct long range, anti-surface strikes using remote targeting provided by various slow, non-stealthy, non-maneuverable UAVs.  Would we allow the Chinese to use such UAVs to target us?  Of course not!  We’d casually shoot them down at our leisure and yet we’re basing an entire distributed lethalilty concept on these UAVs.

I’ve stated repeatedly - and I guess I just did again! – that UAVs are not survivable over the modern battlefield.  On the other hand, ComNavOps has also called for UAV carriers and vastly greater numbers of UAVs on various ships.  This would seem to be a contradiction.  Are UAVs useful on the modern battlefield or not?

The answer is yes – if we use them properly.  In fact, not only are they potentially useful, I’ll go so far as to say they’re absolutely vital.  All right, how do I reconcile my conflicting statements?  Well, I’ve already given the answer – it’s in the numbers.

Individual UAVs are not survivable but – and this is the key “but” – large numbers of UAVs are.

Want to scout that area for expected enemy ships?  Don’t send one UAV – it will get shot down before it can accomplish anything – send one or two dozen!  The laws of probability ensure that at least some will survive long enough to accomplish the mission.

Of course, this implies that the UAVs have to be cheap enough that we don’t care about the attrition rate which will be hideous.  Thus, the trend towards large UAVs like the MQ-4C Triton are a mistake.  We want cheap, throwaway UAVs. 

Unfortunately, cheap implies small which, in turn, implies limited range, endurance, and capability.  Fortunately, numbers can largely offset those disadvantages.

We can compensate for limited capability (meaning, limited sensor range and field of view) by using more UAVs to cover the same area.

We can compensate for limited range and endurance by using the UAVs as one-way, throwaway assets which doubles their “range”.  We don’t want to do this routinely but we shouldn’t hesitate to do so when the need arises.

Small UAVs

We can also compensate for limited range by having the UAVs forward deployed instead of trying to operate them from some base far behind the lines.  By forward deployed, I mean deployed on every ship so that they start out as close to the enemy or the area of interest as possible. 

For example, a Burke or LCS with, say, 50 small, cheap UAVs can provide its own long range surveillance and situational awareness.  Sure, when contact is made with the enemy we’ll lose dozens of UAVs but with enough of them we can maintain situational awareness and generate the targeting data we need.

Now, you understand my call for UAV carriers.  These would be small, WWII escort size carriers or, perhaps, converted commercial cargo vessels with a minimal flight deck (it doesn’t require much deck space to launch and recover small UAVs) that would act as surveillance and targeting escort ships for surface groups.

We can accomplish surveillance and targeting with UAVs if we’re willing to accept the attrition.  Hence, numbers matter.

There’s another aspect to UAV numbers and that is the “Terminator” scenario – you know, the Terminator movie with lethal, autonomous robots attacking each other and humans.  Yes, Terminator – we’ve already crossed the line.  Every major country has already fielded air, land, and sea robots that are armed and we’re giving them more and more autonomy regarding killing.  Future wars will be fought with large numbers of robots indiscriminately shooting. 

However, as yet, they lack true AI and, therefore, numbers will matter.  The robots will be equally matched and the winner on the future battlefield will be the side with more robots.  Hence, numbers matter.

The takeaway from this is that we need to focus our design efforts on smaller, significantly cheaper unmanned vehicles.  For the Navy, this means small, cheap, expendable UAVs for surveillance and targeting in the near term.  Longer term, cheap, armed UAV swarms are the next logical step.  The Navy’s trend towards ultra-high end, sophisticated, ultra-capable UAVs is a mistake.  They’ll wind up being just as expensive as manned aircraft, if not more so, and we’ll be unwilling to risk them which defeats their purpose.

Navy, it’s time to go small or go home!


  1. Or maybe its time to go very low observable ;)

    Right now the most advanced overt ( i would be surprised if USAF doesn't fly something more advanced ) UCAV programs are in Europe, France is leading the way with the multinational Neuron UCAV, and the UK are developing they're own Taranis.

    And before you say, wait a minute we were in the lead with the X-47B, whatever happened to that, well i suppose once you start to arm heavily VLO UCAV's one will ask the question " hey why do we need the F-35C then " so heres you answer.

    UCAV's can be made both survivable and armed and have VLO or just LO, but then a lots of fighter pilots won't have a room in a cockpit and the fighter lobby will not allow that to happen.

    1. A LO UAV only works if it is using passive sensors and not emitting EM radiation. That doesn't seem like an effective platform for tactical reconnaissance. Even if you are using optical and FLIR sensors, how do you get the data back to the operator?

    2. A LO UAV would give the ability to penetrate to the area you want to observe. At that point, you can remain passive or go active, if warranted.

    3. @Storm Shadow: Until Yukikaze's AI becomes a thing, you're still going to need a man in the loop. So there'll still be pilots flying UCAVs, but from a CVN, perhaps, instead of stateside. There's been some talk from the French on how FCAS and potentially Rafale will be "optionally manned" in the future, meaning that the aircraft could either fly with a human pilot, or you could remove him from the pilot and the aircraft is then flown remotely and becomes a UCAV.

  2. Send in the bees!

  3. If you're launching UAVs from a Burke, would you be firing them out of the VLS? The helicopter flight deck probably can't support more than a couple of long-range UAVs if you want to keep the helos, and firing them out of the VLS would cut into the number of missiles you have available for strike and AAW.

    Why not use the LPDs as UAV carriers? They have decently sized flight desks, acceptable survivability, and in the opening stages of a shooting war with a peer state, there's no need or way to land marines, so you can fill them with hundreds of expendable UAVs.

    1. Navy matters had this AMAZING article that talked exactly about that point :P

    2. "helicopter flight deck probably can't support more than a couple of long-range UAVs"

      The post proposed SHORT range UAVs. Short range equals small. I'm thinking Scan Eagle as a conceptual starting point. Thus, a Burke flight deck can support hundreds! They're just containerized, broken out as needed, and launched. If they're recovered, they're recontainerized until needed again.

    3. "Navy matters had this AMAZING article"

      Quite right!

    4. Even for something as small as a Scan Eagle, is there enough room in a Burke for hundreds of containers for them while being easily accessible to the flight deck? We always hear about how small the Burkes have been getting for all the additional roles and hardware that we've been giving them.

  4. And you might even empty their missile magazines by sending in a UAV swarm. Of course, the enemy is bound to do this too so perhaps we need more ESSM launchers or at least a higher percentage of quad-packed ESSM in the Mk.41s. Bring back the arsenal ship concept - convert some spare tankers with hundreds of VLS.

    1. If you're concerned about depleting magazines, have you actually done the math?

    2. @ComNavOps, I don't know the math involved, but I'm very interested. Do you have a past post or link that explains the math involved? I may be blind at the moment, but I'm not seeing anything obvious? Flame me at will if it actually obvious is, of course.

    3. Larry, hey, no problem. Here's the math issue: ships don't fight alone. They fight as groups. Take a carrier group, for example. It will be 3-4 carriers and 20+ escorts. Each escort has, let's say, 96 VLS cells loaded with Standards and quad packed ESSM. Make some assumptions about the ratios of Standard to ESSM and then multiply by 20+ to get the total group defensive missile inventory. Then compare that to any reasonable attack scenario. I think you'll be astounded.

      Did that help?

    4. Larry, I've opted to do a post on this exact thing if you'd prefer to wait.

    5. ESSMs are an expensive answer to cheap UAVs. Forget emptying the magazines, its the treasury I am worried about.

    6. "ESSMs are an expensive answer to cheap UAVs."

      They are and it would be great to have a cheaper solution. On the other hand, ESSMs are a very cheap means of protecting a $2B-$15B ship!

  5. "For example, a Burke or LCS with, say, 50 small, cheap UAVs can provide its own long range surveillance and situational awareness. Sure, when contact is made with the enemy we’ll lose dozens of UAVs but with enough of them we can maintain situational awareness and generate the targeting data we need."

    If you're thinking Blackjack small, a range of 30 miles isn't long-range surveillance. An improved version with double the range isn't long-range surveillance either. And, if you're willing to lose dozens of UAVs at a time, you'll quickly lose situational awareness.

    I like the idea of a UAV carrier and depending on the UAV, such a carrier could be smaller than a WWII jeep carrier. The MQ-8C would be viable candidate for such a carrier as it is the largest and heaviest VTOL UAV available, though I'm not sure of it's range. The Marine's planned MUX is another option.

    1. A Scan Eagle has a cruising speed of 48 kts and an endurance of 20 hours (Wiki) which gives it a theoretical range of 960 nm!!!! This is why I say Scan Eagle is a good conceptual starting point. The current limiter is comms but that's something that can be addressed and, remember, that we only need around 200 miles combined flight and sensor range. That's long range relative to the ship's sensors but short range relative to what UAVs are capable of.

      The advantage of a Scan Eagle-ish UAV is that every ship can carry them and lots of them. That way, if a ship happens to be operating with an attached UAV carrier, it can still provided its own long range surveillance and targeting.

      The MQ-8C has an endurance of just 12 hours and a claimed range of 150 miles (probably a comm limit, again).

      You're falling into the military's tendency to make everything bigger. Well, bigger also equals more expensive. In high end combat, we're going to lose LOTS of UAVs so we've got to make them affordable which means small. An MQ-8C is a non-stealthy, slow target that will stand out like a beacon. It's lifespan will be measured in minutes.

    2. I'm not an EE, but communicating at some 200 miles would require a helicopter-like communication system, which I doubt would fit in something as small as a Scan Eagle which limited in size, weight, and power. Plus, I think we need a UAV with somewhat longer range (250 to 300 nmi) even if that impacts endurance. I think we need something with the range of a long range anti-ship missile.

      The Australians demonstrated a Scan Eagle with a resolution video system. In the trial, a fast boat was detected at a range of 9.1 nmi, a frigate at 12.6 nmi, an airborne helicopter at 3.5 nmi, and a submerged whale at 1.5 nmi. I wouldn't expect a fast boat to detect a Scan Eagle because it lacks a radar, but a frigate would. I'm not sure about the helicopter. But, I don't see those detection ranges as all that impressive.

      Communications is a physics problem and I think you're a little too optimistic the communication issue can be solved without going to a larger UAV.

      As an aside, I can contact a satellite with my HT (amateur) radio on 5 watts with a directional antenna and talk to someone 500 miles away. But, that is only voice communication and using the satellite as a relay. You want something that transmits video and imagery and that requires more power and bandwidth.

    3. I'm not at all certain that UAV comm issues can be resolved! That said, the Navy seems to think so, so I'm tentatively going with that.

      As far as comms and aircraft size, we control Reapers and the like from a world away, using both data and imaging, as far as I know. I think that's a satellite based comm and, if so, I have severe doubts that will prove viable in war but the military seems to be betting on it. Yes, the Reaper-ish UAVs are larger than a Scan Eagle but I don't know how big the actual comm unit is. I note that satellite radios are hand held. Again, whether that would suffice for UAV control, I don't know.

      I note, further, that many missiles, like the NSM, are small and yet can be guided/redirected mid-course and can transmit data and imagery back to the launch platform. Again, that's got to be a pretty small comm package.

      Relays are another option, using UAVs to relay line of sight (what is the line of sight distance for two aircraft at altitude, I wonder?).

      Finally, we only need comms for around 200 miles, not that I think the comm unit size is directly related to transmit distance.

      In summary, I see plenty of reason to believe that 200 mile comms are possible along with plenty of reasons why doing so in combat may prove problematic. All the more reason to conduct realistic tests now, during peacetime.

    4. A ship moving 20kts into a 20kt headwind launches a ScanEagle. At cruising speed, the UAV only moves away from the ship at 8kts.

      If the ship increases speed to 30kts, it will pass the UAV.

      Better hope for tail winds.

    5. Those Reapers and the like have a satellite communication system and the space and power to run it. That's why Reapers weigh 10,000 pounds and cost nearly $20 million a copy. In comparison, the Scan Eagle weighs 50 pounds and cost a fraction of a Reaper.

      As for missiles like NSM which can recieve a signal in flight, it is far easier to recieve a signal as opposed to transmitting one.

      When is comes to communications, size does matter, especially when it comes to antennas and the power to run them. Like with radar, more power gives you greater range.

    6. "That's why Reapers weigh 10,000 pounds"

      Please strive to be at least semi-accurate. The MQ-9 weights around 4900 lbs empty. 10,000 lbs is a max takeoff weight. Regardless of that inaccuracy, the question remains, how much of the Reaper weight/volume is devoted to comms? I have no idea but I suspect not much.

      "As for missiles like NSM which can recieve a signal in flight, it is far easier to recieve a signal as opposed to transmitting one."

      Just the opposite, transmitting requires no "effort" while receiving requires precise transmitter/antenna alignment, the ability to error check, the ability to amplify signals, the ability to discriminate signal from noise, etc. I assume what you mean is that received guidance signals are "smaller" and simpler as opposed to transmitted imagery or data.

      I would note, again, that many small anti-ship cruise missiles contain two-way comms and the comm units must, due to the missile body size limits, be quite small.

    7. Also, note that at altitude (10,000 - 19,000 ft), the line of sight is in the neighborhood of 180-300 miles depending on whether the other end of the comm is aboard ship or an elevated UAV relay.

    8. Okay, then. The dry weight of a Reaper is roughly 100 times than the loaded weight a Scan Eagle. That is still quite a difference. And, at a loaded weight of 40 pounds, after allowing for structure and the engine, there isn't much room for communications or anything else.

      Transmitting requires power and I don't know how else to explain that. And, yes, recieving guidance signals requires simpler equipment to send and receive as opposed to video and imagery.

      And, while some antiship and cruise missiles are capable of two-way communications, look how big they are compared to a Scan Eagle. The fuselage diameter of the Scan Eagle is 7 inches. A Harpoon missile has a diameter of 13.5 inches. A Tomahawk is 20 inches in diameter. Judging from pictures, the NSM looks to have a diameter similar to a Tomahawk. That is a lot of volume to work with. And, given that they are larger, they can provide more power to the payload and other systems.

      I just don't see how a Scan Eagle size UAV could ever have the capability you've described. From what you've described, something larger is required.

    9. "weight of a Reaper is roughly 100 times than the loaded weight a Scan Eagle."

      You're missing two points:

      1. The issue is not the size of the aircraft, it's the size of the communication unit. A one pound comm unit, to make up an example, will fit into both a Reaper and a Scan Eagle. Now, if the comm unit weighs 200 pounds then it obviously won't fit into a Scan Eagle. So, the question remains, how big is the comm unit? So far, no one seems to know.

      2. You've become focused on the Scan Eagle. I've stated that the Scan Eagle is a good CONCEPTUAL STARTING POINT, not the final end point. If we need to make it a little bigger to accommodate a larger comm unit, that's fine - to a point. Perhaps it simply can't be done. If that's the case, so be it. I'm pretty sure it can be done, though. The only missing piece is the comm issue and with 200-300 mile line of sight we should be fine if the UAV can fit the physical comm unit.

    10. Reaper's sat dish. Way too big for anything smaller than a Reaper.

      Could use Iridium Next or another LEO constellation.

    11. Fascinating picture of the satcom! Thanks. So, now the question is how big is the comm unit on a cruise missile that has two-way data comms?

    12. I get that Scan Eagle is your starting point. But, given its relatively small size, limited communication range (which I don't believe is readily solvable), and limited space and power for a payload, I think a Scan Eagle-size UAV is a non-starter. In situations like this, as we say in the South, that dog don't hunt. Based the range and capabilities you've described, you need a bigger dog.

      How much bigger depends on so many variables. But, I've suggested the MQ-8C and the Marine's MUX as possibilities. Though it has its limitations, the MQ-8C is closer to reality than the MUX.

      And, I have no idea how big communication equipment is for a cruise missile. That wasn't my post.

    13. "limited space and power for a payload, I think a Scan Eagle-size UAV is a non-starter."

      From the manuf's website, here is the description of the sensor payload options:

      › Electro-optic imager: For high-resolution daytime imagery.

      - 1.1°–25° field of view
      - 36x continuous zoom

      › EO900 turret: Picture-in-picture daytime imagery from two imagers, allowing operators to focus on and maintain positive identity for objects of interest.

      - .3°–48.7° field of view
      - 170x continuous zoom from one high-resolution imager

      › MWIR camera: For quality thermal imaging for nighttime and low-visibility operations.

      - 2°–25° field of view
      -12.5x continuous zoom

      › Dual Imager turret: Includes an EO and MWIR camera and laser marker for easy transition from daytime to nighttime missions.

      MWIR EO
      -2°–25° field of view - 1.1°–25° field of view
      -12.5x continuous zoom - 36x continuous zoom

      Thus, the sensor payload seems perfectly fine for the task. The question remains comms. Line of sight at altitude is on the order of 180-300 miles so that's fine. It's simply a matter of comm unit packaging and power. I suspect power is not an issue. Long range comms seem to require relatively little power. Looks like mainly just packaging.

      Looks to me like the little dog will hunt just fine, pending resolution of the packaging question.

      The problem with MQ-8C/MUX is a ship can't have more than one or two. That just won't work, especially if they're not VLO.

    14. According to Insitu, the EO900 camera is capable of, "High-zoom imaging enables users to see facial features, weapon type or other identifying characteristics at a slant range of more than 8,000 feet." And, the imagery is 640 x 480 pixels, which is rather low resolution for a camera.

      Now, a fast boat or frigate presents a bigger target and will be observable from distances much greater than 8,000 feet. For reference, the Australian Navy tested a Scan Eagle with the ViDAR system in 2016. Not sure what the ViDAR system included, but they were able to detect a fast boat at 9.1 nmi, a frigate at 12.6 nmi, and an airborne helicopter at 3.5 nmi.

      A fast boat might not detect a Scan Eagle, much less be able to shoot back. But, a frigate is another story and it should be able to pick off a Scan Eagle long before it comes into range to make visual contact with the frigate. And, at these distances, is the resolution good enough to identify the ship type or is it just seeing something that looks like a ship.

      The specifications don't mean much without knowing what ranges they can detect various objects. If the above numbers were the slant range to each target type, then your horizontal range is less and you're much closer to the target then you want to be.

      And, resolution is a factor too. Take telescopes as an example, at the same magnification, you'll see much more of the Moon with a telescope with a 6-in aperture compared to one with a 2-in aperture.

    15. "a frigate is another story and it should be able to pick off a Scan Eagle long before it comes into range to make visual contact with the frigate."

      A few points:

      1. As I've stated, the Scan Eagle is a STARTING POINT for a small UAV. The derived Scan Eagle would be stealthy due to the combination of small size and stealth shaping, to the degree reasonably possible. So, would the frigate be able to detect the UAV before the UAV sees the frigate? I don't know but it certainly improves the UAV's chances and decreases the target's detection range.

      2. NUMBERS!! This was the point of the post. Even allowing, for sake of discussion, that the target can detect and shoot down the UAV before the UAV sees the target, the concept was to use large numbers to compensate for attrition. Several UAVs flying together along the threat axis guarantees that one sees the target.

      3. Think operationally! How does the target detect the UAV? I'll give you a minute to think this through ... ... ... ... Okay, by now you've realized that it does so by using its radar. What does using its radar do? Well, in addition to detecting the UAV, it also reveals the ship's position to the UAV launch platform. Thus, even if the UAV never sees the target, the UAV will have accomplished much of its purpose by being shot down and forcing the target to reveal its.

      4. More operational thinking. The very act of shooting down a UAV further reveals the target's location. The combination of radar, missile guidance signals, radio chatter, explosion, etc. associated with a missile shoot further increases the chance of the target revealing itself.

      5. Even more operational thinking. If we send out, say, a dozen UAV scouts fanned out across the general threat axis and one suddenly stops transmitting data back to us and we lose contact, what would that tell us? You got it! It would tell us that it got shot down so there's a target out there. since we would know the UAV's bearing, speed, and time of flight at the moment of contact loss, we can easily estimate the unseen target's range and bearing. Again, the UAV accomplishes its purpose simply be getting shot down! This is a variation of the flaming datum concept.

      How many times have I said that we need to stop thinking about one-on-one matchups? In this case, a UAV is no match for a frigate so we're tempted to write the UAV off as a bad idea. However, we see that in the real world, the UAV can accomplish its mission BY GETTING SHOT DOWN! Thus, the UAV has TWO means of accomplishing its mission: by actively spotting the target or by forcing the target to reveal itself. When we start thinking past the one-on-one match, we see lots of "hidden" advantages (to be fair, there can be hidden advantages for both sides, depending on circumstances).

      You're trying to match one-on-one specs instead of thinking operationally. Do you see what I mean?

    16. First off, I like what you do with this blog and you're often spot on with your posts and comments. I'm an aerospace engineer by education and mechanical/project engineer by experience and have worked in worked in the aerospace industry for over 20 years. I'm not saying that to toot my horn. I'm merely trying to help you with suggestions and comments to better flesh out the concept.

      Let's continue ....

      1. I get that Scan Eagle is your starting point. And, as I've tried to explain, a Scan Eagle-size UAV is too small for the mission as described. I think you severly under estimate the complexity to solve the communication issue and significantly over estimate the capability of the payload to detect a surface target. You introduced specifications on the payload to quantify its capabilities and I tried to put that into the context of detecting a target, including what the system has demonstrated in testing.

      2. The concept is launching a dozen or so UAVs along a threat axis. In some cases there might be multiple threat axes to cover, so asset allocation is important. And, asset recovery is important too. You want to make sure the launching ship is in a position to recover all the UAVs.

      3. If the target illuminates the UAV, how close would the launching ship have to be to detect the radar signals from the target ship? Can a ship detect another ship's radar signal 200 miles away? I doubt that is possible. A helicopter or patrol aircraft in the right position might, but they are not always available and they might be close enough to be shotdown.

      4. That assumes the UAV can report that information before being downed or can be detected by the launching ship. That means the UAV has the sensors to detect that information or the launching ship is close enough to see the shootdown. But, what if the UAV was shotdown by a helicopter many miles from its ship? Or a long range missile?

      5. If one of the drones suddenly stops transmitting, how are we sure it was shot down? It could be a failure in the comms unit. Engine failure, structural failure, or mechanical failure could have caused the UAV to crash. The UAV could have ran out of fuel or hit high headwinds causing the UAV to stall and crash.

      6. From an operational perspective, you want to make sure the UAV has sufficient fuel margins to complete the mission. Headwinds help with taking off, but increase fuel consumption resulting in a reduction in range. Also, managing a dozen or so UAVs in the air can be a challenge too. And, as I said earlier, you want to be in a position to recover all your assets.

      7. While it has long endurance, its crusing speed is 60 knots according to Wikipedia. I'm not sure what the stall speed is, but that is a factor to consider.

      Like I said earlier, I'm trying to help flesh out the concept.

    17. "I think you severly under estimate the complexity to solve the communication issue and significantly over estimate the capability of the payload to detect a surface target."

      Maybe. I'm not an aerospace engineer by education and mechanical/project engineer by experience and have not worked in worked in the aerospace industry for over 20 years. So, could I be completely wrong? Sure could. I don't think so but it's certainly possible. If I am wrong, I'll just move on to the next idea. There's always more than one way to solve a problem. What I do on this blog is try to offer ideas. All are good but a few may not be technically feasible. For the ones that are not, I'll just come up with another approach! So, if I'm wrong, it's no big deal.

      That said, I don't see any concrete stop points. You've made general statements that you don't think the kind of UAV I envision can be achieved but you've offered nothing concrete to support that. For example, if you were to cite the best line-of-sight comm unit for a 200-300 mile comm system and it weighed 1000 pounds and was the size of a house then that would certainly be a stop point! If you have such a stop point, please offer it. Otherwise, I'm looking at small anti-ship missiles that do two-way comms and that strongly suggests to me that the comm issue can be solved. Unfortunately, I don't know and can't cite a specific comm unit in a specific missile to say that it has the size/weight needed so I'm optimistic but less than 100% sure.

      That's where it sits. The sensor payload is clearly viable and proven - they exist! It's just a comm issue and that looks hopeful but not proven.

    18. "Can a ship detect another ship's radar signal 200 miles away?"

      Everything I've seen/read indicates that is completely plausible. COBLU, for instance, is purported to be able to passively detect all manner of electromagnetic signals for thousands of miles - we only need a couple hundred, max!

      Also, think operationally. If an enemy ship/group is operating their radar continuously/regularly so as to detect UAVs, then we have many platforms that are probably detecting and triangulating the radar's location and transmitting it to our ship. Ships don't fight alone!

    19. "If one of the drones suddenly stops transmitting, how are we sure it was shot down?"

      We can't be sure it was shot down but if we have reason to suspect enemy presence, send out UAVs towards that suspected area, and note the sudden loss of communications, wouldn't you say it's a pretty good bet that it was enemy action? We would probably send/redirect another UAV to the area and if it finds nothing then it was just a routine failure. If it finds the enemy or suddenly also loses comms then we're 100% sure. This really isn't that complicated! You seem to be wanting to make it harder than it is?

    20. "We would probably send/redirect another UAV to the area and if it finds nothing then it was just a routine failure. If it finds the enemy or suddenly also loses comms then we're 100% sure."

      Given its cruising speed of 60 knots, from the time you realize you lost communications with a UAV to the time it takes to retask or send a replacement UAV to the same area, could be several hours, which could allow the firing ship to escape and avoid detection.

    21. Then we just make the logical assumption that the original UAV was shot down and proceed accordingly. Good grief! It really isn't all that complicated.

  6. Reading this I think of Nagumo asking where the Tones
    scout plane is. Navy needs to put catapults back on ship for their new model Kingfishers.

    Supermarine Walrus fan.

  7. I've seen more than one LCS partisan argue that LCS is implementing "distributed lethality", but the question I've never had answered by these PR flacks is, "What lethality?" It can't even effectively defend itself, fer crise' sake, while being larger than many USN WWI destroyers!

    1. What's lacking even more than the lethality is the sensor range. It's pointless to have a thousand mile weapon and only 20 mile (radar horizon) sensors.

    2. @Larry: Distributed lethality at its simplest basically means putting back legit srsface AShMs to the surface fleet instead of relying on the carrier's air wing to be the sunday punch; it means any potential adversary must be concerned with the DDGs *and* the carrier.

      While it is fashionable to decry putting NSM on LCS, I should point out that plenty of nations put antiship missiles on their corvettes - the Swedish Visbys, the Israeli Sa'ars, the Norwegian Skjolds, the French Gowind, the various Chinese corvette types, you get the picture, pretty much anybody who can afford it puts AShMs on their corvettes. It's not an inherently bad idea - let's not forget all the people whining about how the single role corvette LCS without AShMs is unable to contribute in serious war. What, you don't gotta do mineclearing or ASW in wartime? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Basically, the idea is that if every ship is carrying AShMs, then the adversary has to be more cautious with the blips he sees on his screen. As ideas go, IMO, it's not that bad; it's a return to the Cold War status quo, when everyone carried Harpoon.

      @ComNavOps: They're going to be putting NSM on LCS and FFG(X), that's a 345 mile missile. The only missile you're getting a thousand mile range is Tomahawk, but frankly that range is kinda pointless, since it's going to take under 2 hours for Tomahawk to hit a target 1000 miles away. Good luck keeping a sensor platform with eyes on the target in position, transmitting midcourse updates, and staying alive for that long! :P

      The navy has been flying Fire Scout UAVs off LCS and using them and Romeo Seahawks for surface search, but that's not really ideal and doesn't give you as much coverage . P-8s and MQ-4Cs are supposed to be able to datalink their radar picture and handoff for engagement, but I've always felt that if an MPA is in range to detect it should just leave out the middleman and fire its own AShMs. *shrug*

      There is talk that CBARS with its LO shaping (as opposed to pure VLO like the F-35) can be outfitted with sensor pods to be used as a LO recon UAV, which makes some sense from the utilisation angle (if the pylon can take a buddy tank, it'll take JDAM racks and sensor pods), but IMO they're better served focusing on playing flying tanker.

      Man that was a bit of a ramble. tl;dr: NSM's 345 mile range makes LCS as a shooter as viable with CEC networked datalinking handoff as a DDG (since both need external sensor platforms feeding them picture), and IMO giving NSM to LCS is a way of 1) shutting up people whining the single role LCS doesn't do enough this, and 2) cheaply adds your missile shooters in a war. Which is not to say that it is *ideal*, but it's not an inherently dumb idea. Taffy 3's DEs had torpedoes, afterall, even though they weren't intended to slug it out in a surface fight.

    3. "plenty of nations put antiship missiles on their corvettes"

      They do, however, a major operating difference between all of them and the US is that all of them operate in the home waters and air coverage. Thus, the corvette can obtain targeting data from land based radar and land based aerial surveillance, among other methods. The US' concept of distributed lethality would have the LCS operating far from any friendly US bases, radars, or aerial coverage. They would be largely on their own as far as generating targeting data. This raises the specter of the weapons that outrange the sensor issue. That's the only reason I would have any objection to anti-ship missiles on an LCS - and even then, I'd still want anti-ship missiles because you might get off-board target data and even if you're shooting at something close (20 miles or closer), you still need a good weapon!

      The key, though, is how the various navies operate their ships (home waters versus forward deployed). Too many people overlook this when they observe foreign navies and compare them to the US. The US operates completely differently and has a unique set of operational needs.

    4. "the idea is that if every ship is carrying AShMs, then the adversary has to be more cautious with the blips he sees on his screen."

      That's of no practical significance. Unless a hundred targets pop up simultaneously which would force the enemy to prioritize responses, the enemy is just going to kill each target as it appears without caring whether it carries anti-ship missiles or not. It's not as if the enemy is going to see a target without anti-ship missiles and let it go! The presence or absence of anti-ship missiles is utterly meaningless to the enemy. They'll sink whatever they see.

      For the LCS or a similar type ship, they have no significant defenses. Distributed lethality is, essentially, a suicide mission. I've covered this in a couple of PT boat posts. There's no reason to believe an LCS would be any different and every reason to believe it would fare worse.

    5. Welp, trying the HTML again.


      @ComNavOps: What you think the Navy will do is the opposite of what the Navy's intentions are: LCS operates independently in low-intensity missions (like patrolling the Gulf of Aden and the Malacca Strait), and then links up with the rest of the USN in high-intensity war. The idea is that in a hot war ASW LCS can be slotted into SAGs or carrier groups to provide additional ASW support, while ASuW LCS could act as an AShM shooter receiving offboard targeting data, or you have multiple LCSes grouped with a DDG to form an SAG.

      Of course a corvette running off on its own to manfight the entire PLAN solo is going to get itself killed, but I've seen this argument made before, and I find it interesting that nobody suggests the Chinese navy is going to send their corvettes up against the USN to manfight solo and die unsupported. :V

      "This raises the specter of the weapons that outrange the sensor issue."

      I should note that this is a problem for ALL surface ships with AShMs, not just LCS.

      You knock on the MQ-4C, but the point of the MQ-4C is that it would complement the P-8 for maritime patrol and act as a long range offboard sensor to transmit back targeting data. Within the CSG itself you would also have the E-2 doing air and surface search - Russian assessments credit E-2 with having a max detection range of 450km against surface targets.* Having said that, I too agree that it would indeed be useful for all surface ships to have UAVs to feed them sensor data - sure, you can do that now with Seahawks, but an unmanned Fire Scout is a lot more expendable than a manned Seahawk.

      "The presence or absence of anti-ship missiles is utterly meaningless to the enemy. They'll sink whatever they see."

      You misunderstand what I mean. Previously, without Distributed Lethality, the entirety of the striking power was in the CVN's air wing: the DDGs lacked Harpoon and were loaded for AAW and shore bombardment, so if an attacker can put together say a 50 missile salvo, he can concentrate that salvo on the CVN (or what he *thinks* is the CVN - all warfare is based on deception, afterall) and take it off the board. The DDGs are then less of an immediate threat to his fleet - if they attempt to use SM-2 as an ASuW weapon against him, they have to sail into LOS of his ships, while he can throw follow up AShM salvoes** at the DDGs from beyond visual range, or retreat without fear of counterattack: a stern chase is a slow chase, afterall.

      Now though, he has to spread that salvo across all the ships, which dilutes his firepower. It's a similar thing to APS on tanks: it's not a pure, perfect defense, but it dilutes the effectiveness of the opponent's present effort, and forces him to put more effort into his attack to get the same result.

    6. (2/2)

      "For the LCS or a similar type ship, they have no significant defenses."

      I wouuldn't say no significant defenses. It's a corvette with stealth shaping, ECM, point defense missiles and a 40 knot sprint speed. Its defenses aren't that badly off compared to other ships, and it's worth noting that more and more people are going to stealth designs in their corvettes, not just the US. Then there's also RAM: assuming a standard shoot-shoot-look-shoot engagement pattern on incoming AShMs, RAM has at least 7 stowed kills in the 21-cell launcher and 3.7 stowed kills in the 11-cell SeaRAM mount. Unstealthy supersonic AShMs in terminal phase aren't exactly subtle targets, and don't make crazy maneuvers because that's liable to put the target outside the seeker cone. Still a challenge, to be sure, but not an impossible challenge.

      Sure, if you throw enough missiles at LCS it'll die, but there's also the cold calculus that every missile the adversary spends on trying to kill a corvette is a missile he can't use on the CVN or DDGs.

      *Source, translated: AEW Comparison
      Original Russian Source

      **Assuming, of course, that he didn't empty his magazines on the CVN.

    7. "in a hot war ASW LCS can be slotted into SAGs or carrier groups"

      I'm sorry but this is explicitly not what the Navy is saying. They have stated that the LCS is NOT a battle group component (to be fair, once upon a time they stated the opposite but that didn't last long). The LCS constant refueling needs eliminate it from group escort use.

      They have further stated that the LCS will be a major element of the distributed lethality concept and have explicitly stated that it will operate independently. In fact, they have described it as a modern PT boat. I've documented this in various posts.

      Your vision does not match the Navy's!

    8. "MQ-4C ... act as a long range offboard sensor to transmit back targeting data."

      We've discussed this at length in previous posts. No UAV of this type will be survivable long enough to target anything. I'm not going to belabor this.

    9. "the DDGs lacked Harpoon ... concentrate that salvo on the CVN ... The DDGs are then less of an immediate threat to his fleet"

      You're being inconsistent.

      Currently, DDGs do carry Harpoon and would be loaded with a full load of 8x in the event of war. The minimal Harpoon carry, at the moment, is just a shelf life preservation effort and would be instantly reversed in the event of war. The LCS, currently has no anti-ship weapon at all.

      Perhaps you're considering the moderately near future when the LCS will have an anti-ship missile. If so, so will the DDGs which will be mounting either the NSM or VL-LRASM or both. So, if you're going to credit the LCS with anti-ship missiles, you have to credit the DDG, as well.

      You appear to be trying to mix the current DDG with the future LCS to make your argument.

    10. "I wouuldn't say no significant defenses."

      Each LCS has a single RAM or SeaRAM launcher (supposedly the Navy is going to remove the RAM and replace with SeaRAM - that remains to be seen). Those are short/medium range AAW. Enemy aircraft, ships, and land based missiles far outrange the LCS AAW.

      SeaRAM, the standard, has 11 missiles. That's it. That's the total defensive capability. No one believes a gun is going to shoot down a missile. So, at best, you get five defensive chances and, more likely, probably only two or three if you have to use more than two missiles per engagement.

      That is not what anyone would call a significant defensive capability!

    11. I would be interested in seeing your sources on the Navy's backtracking - I 'd quite like to see how things have changed, since my rebuttal was based on my most recent knowledge of the Navy's plans for LCS.

      "We've discussed this at length in previous posts. No UAV of this type will be survivable long enough to target anything. I'm not going to belabor this."

      Sure, but that cuts both ways against the Chinese. The same thing applies for the PLAN's MPAs, y'know - they don't have maritime search UAVs of their own (yet, they want to change that), which means they're going to be reliant on their MPA fleet, which is going to be even more vulnerable than UAVs, on account of being significantly larger airframes.

      On the other hand, even the most vulnerable UAV still dies as fast as the enemy's decision cycle. It'll still take a few minutes for a SAM to kill a UAV - which works for both large UAVs like Triton and the small UAVs you advocate for.

      "You're being inconsistent...So, if you're going to credit the LCS with anti-ship missiles, you have to credit the DDG, as well."

      I'm not being inconsistent, I'm talking about the pre-Distributed Lethality era. Please note my opening reply to Larry: "@Larry: Distributed lethality at its simplest basically means putting back legit srsface AShMs to the surface fleet instead of relying on the carrier's air wing to be the sunday punch; it means any potential adversary must be concerned with the DDGs *and* the carrier."

      As I keep saying, Distributed Lethality isn't just giving LCS AShMs, it's giving _every surface ship AShMs_. You're right that the Flight I Burkes can carry Harpoons, but that's just 1/3rd of the DDG fleet, 20-odd ships. The other 40-odd Flight IIs don't have Harpoon canisters. Add in the Navy prioritising the Flight I ships for BMD patrol instead of CSG escort, and you've got a better than 2/3rds chance that the majority of the DDGs in the desron are the Flight II ships who don't have Harpoon, who have no ASuW weapons except SM-2 and the gun.

      Let's take my same scenario and run it through the Distributed Lethality paradigm. The adversary assembles his 50-missile salvo. He chooses to concentrate on the CVN, and suceeds in sinking it. However, because the DDGs now have AShMs of their own, they remain viable threats to his fleet and can counterattack, because if the enemy is in range of you, you are in range of him. Now he has to follow up and sink all of the DDGs, or try and retreat while eating AShMs from the DDGs - a far cry from before, where he could retreat with impunity.

      Alternately, the adversary is aware that all the DDGs are armed with AShMs. He understands that even if he sinks the CVN, the DDGs can still come after him. He must treat the entire CSG as a credible threat to his fleet. Therefore his options are: 1) increase the size of his missile salvo, which means deploying more ships as shooters (which is easier said than done, ships don't reposition as fast as aircraft do*), or 2) he must spread out his missile salvo amongst all the ships in the CSG to be sure that he can sink every ship.

      Also I should note that LCS has been deployed with Harpoon and NSM... With NSM being selected for LCS and FFG(X), the logical thing is that the DDGs should also get NSM for that consolidation of missile inventory between NAVSEA and NAVAIR, but I wouldn't rule LRASM out of the fight for the DDG's VLS cells just yet. (IMO the Navy should have gone with NSM from the get-go, instead of the song and dance that meandered to this point.)


    12. "That is not what anyone would call a significant defensive capability!"

      I like how you ignored the softkill defenses LCS has to focus on the hardkill SeaRAM. :V

      The funny thing is that if you look at the historical trend, it's been that softkill measures have been more effective than hardkill measures for missile defense. On the other hand nobody's really endured a seriousface missile attack on their ships so things remain conjecture, but I think you give too little credit to the stealth shaping and ECM (the sprint speed does help, but that's more relevant against truck-mounted SSMs, less so vs AShMs).

      I mean, I did say RAM is a point defense missile. The aim isn't to defend LCS against the launching platform, it's to defend against the AShM. Aircraft? AShMs are heavy things: tactical aircraft are generally limited to 2 missiles. If you shoot down a fighter's missiles, what's that fighter going to do, come and strafe you? That just puts HIM in RAM range now. MPAs can carry more AShMs, but blowing an MPA's load of AShMs on LCS is a poor trade when there's bigger fish to fry. Ship-launched AShM? Falls into the same problem you commented on LCS: the missile outranges the ship's sensors. And the low RCS on LCS - fishing boat sized - mean that any searching aircraft needs to pick it out from the clutter of other ships around, and makes target discrimination harder. It's not that different from the arguments made above for stealthy UAVs for recon - the principles are the same.

      And the brutal cold calculus is that every missile the adversary wastes on LCS is a missile he can't use on the CSG and DDGs. I don't like that calculus, but it is what it is. The tin can sailors have always been expendable. :|


  8. How localized does a target have to be before we launch a swarm at it?

    A swarm of ScanEagles puttering along at 60 kts is going to take quite awhile to get to and then search an area of interest 120+ nm from a ship. Where do you draw the line when it comes to sensors, speed, and size to avoid these things becoming too expensive to lose?

    1. Come on, think about how you would use UAVs! You wouldn't wait until you were desperately in need of seeing what was 120 nm away. Instead, you'd have been continuously shuttling relays of UAVs out ahead of you as you were sailing and, thus, you'd have continuous coverage right up to the area of interest. Thus, there would be no wait time to get coverage there - it would already be there!

  9. Many years ago, I posited the need for a UAV carrier

    Possibly a "through deck cruiser", possibly a "through deck destroyer", maybe neither, the UAVs could be gun launched and net landed.

    The drones would be roughly Scan Eagle sized, a mix of cameras, day, night, Infra Red, UV(?), radio listeners(?).
    But you don't need dozens, you need thousands.

    The UAV carrier approaches the area of interest, relatively, fires off its 1000 autonomous drones, they make their 12 hour flight out, over fly the target from every direction and at multiple heights, and make the 12 hour flight back to the rendezvous point.
    The drones land, ship(?), the drives are pulled and a multi spectrum map of the area is created

    Drones could be shot down, but Scan Eagles maximum height is 20,000ft, technically outside the range of a lot of MANPADS, within the range, technically, of 40mm cannon, you could be a dick about it and have an F35 or two throw some HARMs in to the mix.
    But no matter what, a lot of drones are getting out.

    Not useful for a live firing solution, but as general pre battle intel gathering, very handy.
    For a firing solution, I suppose you could daisy chain them, Drone A 500 miles in front cant speak to your Destroyer, but it can speak to B, than speaks to C, to D, to E, in real enough time.

  10. If your using disposable UAVs anyway, why not increase their range by dropping them from aircraft. I can see modules designed to fit into the cargo area of a Seahawk or Hercules and automatically dispense them. If their small enough you might be able to launch them from sonobuoy dispensers.

    Randall Rapp

  11. Long story short:
    Was it possible to develop a A-12 / F-14 sized UCAV with a hell of a lot of payload and range 10 years ago.

    Will it happen in the next 10-15 years, no because some people have to fly F-18s and F-35s.

    1. It's a matter of definitions but I would argue that we haven't yet developed a UCAV and won't for many years yet. A UCAV is a COMBAT aircraft and, by most people's way of thinking, an air-to-air (A2A) combat aircraft. We are nowhere near being able to field an unmanned air-to-air aircraft that could be successful. The requisite degree of autonomy just isn't there, yet. Even with a remote pilot it still can't work because the comm lag time and poor situational awareness for the operator are too big of flaws to overcome and allow for success in combat against manned aircraft.

      So, setting aside people, politics, agendas, inertia, and whatever other obstacles, the technical capability just doesn't exist.

      Now, for those who chose to define a UCAV as something other than an A2A, maybe we have that. For instance, a UAV that follows some waypoints and then drops/launches a weapon is well within our capability but that hardly constitutes a UCAV as it's commonly thought of.

    2. @Storm Shadow: Actually, the Navy is already looking at an F/A-18-sized UAV- Carrier Based Air Refueling System, aka CBARS. The idea is that you have a UAV tanker with some low observable features, to get the Navy's feet into the UCAV game. Start with a drone tanker, since that's the most pressing need for NAVAIR right now, to extend strike range and stop wasting Super Hornets on buddy tanking. Then, you can also use it as a bomber - if the pylons will take buddy tanks, they'll hold Mark 84 JDAMs. It's basically a 21st century KA-6D, being a tanker with secondary bombing ability.

      (Also, an interesting thing IMO is that the Navy is pulling pilots from all communities - F/A-18, EA-18, C-2, even F-35 dudes - to fly CBARS. It suggests to me that while the Navy is focused on its drone tanker, it also wants to see what else it could do with such a platform...)

      @ComNavOps is right that a full srsface UCAV is still going to be some years off. Theoretically you could strap on a HMD and have the pilot on the CVN get the same virtual cockpit as the F-35 has, but the biggest issue is going to be transmission lag. Satellite bandwidth is a very real limit for drone ops being flown back in the US.

  12. An aerostat tethered to a vessel (manned or unmanned) could provide similar coverage to an uav since the aerostat can reach a height of 15,000 ft (limited by regulation not physics). You could have a much larger payload with the aerostat and "unlimited" loiter capability. The vessel could provide some self defense capability to the aerostat. Reel in the tether, move the ship and set up shop at a new location. A fleet of small ships could be continuously in motion, popping up and taking down their aerostats to make it more difficult to target an individual aerostat. The support vessels could be diesel electric submarines and could play a really great game of hide and seek. Pop up the aerostat, put up the snorkel, charge the batteries, pull the aerostat, and sneak to the next location.

    Unmanned ships with parasail sensor packages are another option.

    1. The problem with a tethered aerostat is that it's a giant sign saying "Here am I come find me!" At least an E-2 is always in motion. The problem with using diesel-electric submarines as your aerostat tenders is also mobility; they range-limited vs nuke subs, and they lose their stealth past 15 knots.

      Aerostats make sense as longterm observation assets where you just park one in an area to do round the clock surveillance; their lack of mobility makes them less useful to surface ships that can easily outpace them at cruise speed.

    2. The mission is information gathering. The mission should not be to follow the surface vessels or be part of a group, because then you are just giving information to the enemy. The aerostat vessels should be well forward of any battle groups in both time and location.
      The aerostat does have mobility issues while deployed, but you have look down awareness and can easily see any vessels that are heading your way.
      The number of aerostat vessels should be in the hundreds if not thousands of vessels. If we are allowed to have an UAV shot down and have many more in reserve to accomplish the mission, I see no reason to limit the aerostat vessels. The number of aerostats should be so large that the enemy could not reasonably determine the plan of attack.
      The giant sign saying "Here am I come find me" can be useful. Placing your enemy in the kill box is always the goal.
      The diesel electric submarine aerostat vessel would be playing "hide and seek and destroy". If the aerostat handling equipment could be a module that could be detached from the submarine and float along the surface, while the submarine, with information provided by the aerostat, gets in position, the submarine could destroy whomever comes looking to take out the aerostat.

    3. Michael, I'm dubious about the aerostat concept but it's certainly worth exploring. Tell me a bit more about your concept. What size ship do you have in mind for this duty? Would they have any other mission? Would they have any self-defense? How do they get into position without being seen - or does that even matter?

    4. When RQ-4s already demonstrate 32+ hour endurance, does it need to be an aerostat, or at least a pure aerostat?

      I think a hybrid aerostat, in terms of both lift and propulsion, could be kind of interesting. Conveniently, hydrogen is an excellent lifting gas, an excellent cryogenic coolant, and has excellent energy density. I'm picturing a LF VLO flying wing (think the love-child of a B-21 and a Horton Ho-IV) that bleeds off hydrogen gas from a liquid hydrogen tank to generate electrical power and provide lifting gas. The airforce has experimented with liquid hydrogen-cooled electric motors (non-superconducting) in the past and found that they have phenomenal power density, significantly higher than even gas-turbines (of course you still need a generator of some kind). A few ducted, electrically powered fans should be able to very efficiently provide enough thrust to keep the aircraft in the air and keep pace with a surface group or convoy. If solar cells on the top of the wings don't compromise signature too badly, it could top off batteries and/or electrolyze water vapor to top off the hydrogen tanks during the day.

      I think the CONOPS would be that this thing stays at high altitude providing passive RF sensing, long-range IR sensing, and comms (i.e, using LPI/LPD AESA datalinks) to the ships below. I think the persistent comm relay would be reason enough to try it out, but hopefully it could also queue other sensors and UAVs - perhaps making it feasible to use something like MALDs in place of ScanEagles.

      - Maxis

    5. "I think a hybrid aerostat"

      Fascinating. I can't comment on the technical aspects of what you're describing as I have no knowledge in that area but the general concept sounds plausible and well worth investigating. Thanks for sharing. Excellent comment. Great contribution.

      The only problem I could foresee is that you reference a RQ-4 size UAV which is pretty big. That limits the launch "platform" to a full size carrier or land bases. Ideally, it would be great to have a UAV small enough to launch from a surface ship. Could you envision an adaptation of what you describe for a smaller airframe?

    6. "The only problem I could foresee is that you reference a RQ-4 size UAV which is pretty big. That limits the launch "platform" to a full size carrier or land bases. Ideally, it would be great to have a UAV small enough to launch from a surface ship. Could you envision an adaptation of what you describe for a smaller airframe?"

      Probably not if it's going to fly at 60,000 feet or higher and carry a meaningful payload. Maybe they could be miniaturized a bit, but my thinking is that you would want to use the passive sensors and communication suites that are being designed or in use with the U-2s and RQ-4s, both substantial aircraft. Additionally, my understanding is that low-frequency stealth shaping requires very large flight surfaces that may limit such aircraft to ground bases.

      There are a couple of real-world hydrogen powered HALE aircraft. Both Boeing's Phantom Eye and AeroVironment's Global Observer incorporated liquid hydrogen storage and power generation, and they were built and flown to a limited extent. They had 150 and 175 foot wingspans and were designed to carry 450 and 375 pound payloads respectively. While neither were funded to the point that they demonstrated multi-day endurance, both were shooting to stay aloft for a week at a time, which should largely obviate the need to be deployed on ships. To my knowledge, however, neither attempted to use some of the onboard hydrogen to displace air within the structure, augment hydrogen storage with solar cells, or exploit the the cooling potential of the liquid hydrogen for electric propulsion. Phantom Eye burned the hydrogen in traditional IC engines, but the Global Observer was intended to use fuel cells and electric motors.

      My guess is that Phantom Eye and Global Observer didn't go anywhere because their value might be suspect in contested air space, and the RQ-180 program was going on at the same time. It'll be interesting to see whether or not the RQ-180 is more or less a conventional VLO aircraft or if incorporates some of the advanced cryogenic technologies explored in the other two programs.

      I also think the application that we're discussing here is a little different because you don't necessarily need to surveil a wide area and instead want to hold station over relatively slow-moving ships for as long as possible. I think that mission would lend itself to incorporating more elements of lighter-than-air aircraft. I'd me hesitant to go too far in that direction though because it seems unexplored from a VLO perspective and a more traditional airframe should provide higher transit speeds and better all-weather capability.

      Regardless, cryogenic electric motors are fascinating:

      - Maxis

    7. Another really good comment!

      "I also think the application that we're discussing here is a little different because you don't necessarily need to surveil a wide area"

      Quite right. For this mission we're actually only interested in the area 200 miles in front of the ship and along the threat axis. Hence, my belief that small UAVs could accomplish the job.

      The other drawback to a very large aircraft like the RQ-4 is the cost. I doubt we can afford enough to operate them over every deployed ship which was the core requirement in the mission I described.

      We were looking at a way for an individual ship to match its sensor range to its weapon range. Your concept might well work but we wouldn't have enough to cover every ship which was the requirement.

      Your concept sounds like it might be better suited for covering an amphibious group or patrolling a fixed geographical location rather than following around individual LCSes which leads us back to the small UAV.

  13. And another thing with autonomous UCAV's is simply target ID without a human operator in a jamming environment.

    How do you differentiate a mobile S-400 SAM launcher from a truck?
    So with the current technological level they're only good for deep reconnaissance
    A old but interesting article

    1. There's a demo Kongsberg did a while ago where they fired an NSM at a bunch of decoys and a radar truck, and the NSM discriminates away from the decoys and goes for the radar truck, so target differentiation is apparently possible.

      Kongsberg and Raytheon also claim that NSM's IIR seeker means that it can see the image of the target and compare it to the threat library but ehhhhhhhh I'm more iffy on that - I think it's going to be a while before that actually works out for real.

    2. And then of course no matter how good the seeker we always have this


    3. Witch brings me to another idea, why CNO does not make a new post about the effectiveness of decoys

    4. That would be a great post but I have no definitive information about their effectiveness!

  14. "individual LCSes which leads us back to the small UAV."

    That means a vertical take off and landing low observable UAV with the size between a Kiowa and Blackhawk helicopter, doable yes - price unknown.

  15. I’m also a little dubious. I am thinking of a few variants to compete in the UAV market space. I don’t think that the aerostat will compete with the ship launched/recovered UAV but rather should be used as listening posts (signal intelligence), fleet tracking (situational awareness) and secondary communications network (just in case china destroys our satellite network).
    The concept is that of a network of aerostats with overlapping radar/sensor coverage that would be deployed in areas of strategic priority (South China Sea, Philippine Sea, East China Sea, Sea of Japan, etc.) The aerostat network would be composed of many more nodes than would be needed for coverage of the area of interest. The over supply of nodes would allow the majority of the nodes to be silent while still retaining on station replacements if the nodes are attacked. (pull a map of the South China Sea and envision circles of 300 miles in diameter to get an idea of just how few aerostats are needed to cover the area even less if you can convince surrounding nations that it is in their interest to place aerostats along their coast lines)
    All of the aerostats would be filled with Ammonia (NH3) rather than Helium. There is a payload penalty with using ammonia but ammonia can be made in a reactor using air, water and electricity and stored on a ship in a tank. The logistics of helium resupply could be difficult and costly.
    The first vessel variant would be the least expensive, unmanned and expendable. It would be a spar design (big steel pipe tapered to a smaller diameter steel pipe at sea level) with a coaxial Voith-Schneider propellor (cyclorotor) for station keeping/movement, the aerostat deployment system of a winch and cable and the aerostat and payload (radar, sensors, comms).
    The second vessel variant would also be a spar design but would be able to ballast down below sea level when not active. The aerostat would be a constant diameter tube (long bread sack) that the payload would suspend from. The aerostat would be deployed in a deflated state and filled with ammonia from the spar then ascend with the payload. The aerostat would be retrieved to the spar and the ammonia in the aerostat vented or recompressed in the spar storage tank. The aerostat would then be stored on the spar (wound around a spool) and the spar would ballast down after sealing the payload and the aerostat inside the spar.
    The third vessel variant would be a manned vessel roughly 50 meters in length with aerostat and multiple missile launchers for self defense/offense. Mostly for when you want to have a man in the loop. 50 meters may be too small if the Chinese fishing militia and coast guard start to harass the ship then a large tanker would be better.
    The spar designs could have torpedos mounted around the periphery for self defense. They would just be ejected straight down.
    I would not hide the initial fleet of the aerostats and would be clear that they were a direct response to the island building activities of the Chinese. I would run them right outside of the Chinese maritime boundary.

    1. You seem to be focused on peacetime applications of aerostats. Nothing wrong with that but we've been looking at wartime distributed lethality targeting. An aerostat, in wartime, is a beacon and will likely have a lifespan of minutes!

      How, if at all, do you see aerostats functioning in high end combat?

    2. "An aerostat, in wartime, is a beacon and will likely have a lifespan of minutes!"
      What did it cost to destroy the aerostat? What was the method of destruction? Missile? Naval Gun? Scissors? There will be attrition of assets but what did it cost the enemy? What does an E2 Hawkeye cost ($176 million)and is it any less of a target? Can it defend itself better than an aerostat?
      High end combat should use the aerostats as the outermost layer of the aircraft carrier battle group. They should be hundreds of miles from the battle group and arrayed in a broad front that would not betray the position of the following ships. Their positioning should be used to confuse and bait the enemy. The aerostats can tolerate 70 knot winds and can survive 90 knot winds. If the cruising speed of the aircraft carrier group is the slowest vessel than you are looking at a 22 to 30 knot cruising speed, well within the limits of the aerostat. The aerostats should be able to move with the fleet.
      How do we know what the threat axis is? Because they just attacked one of the aerostats.
      How do we know the threat axis with short range UAV's? Is it always in the direction of travel? The UAV's are sent north and east (the planned transit direction) and the threat is really southwest and the enemy attacks from the rear.

      100 knot design validation for a large aerostat.

  16. I saw this at Naval Recognition and thought it might interest you.

    Russian Navy Karakurt-class Corvettes Fitted with Orlan-10 UAVs

    The Orlan-10 UAV appears to be in same size/weight category as the Scan Eagle.

    1. I had not seen that. Thanks for the heads up. It's fascinating that they appear to actually have a CONOPS for the drones. The article claims they'll operate in groups of three with one collecting camera images, one conducting EW, and one transmitting to base. Why a separate drone is needed to transmit is puzzling.

      Also, the use of a drone for EW shows the emphasis that Russia is placing on EW as has been demonstrated in Ukraine.

      We are behind the curve!

    2. I was thinking about that too. It might be that the Orlan-10 is space/weight limited, so it can carry either a camera, an EW package, or a communications unit as a payload. I think the reason for the third bird flying higher than the other two is that it has the longest direct line-of-sight back to launch site/ship.

    3. The camera drone must have comm capability in order to transmit its data to the communications drone. Is the line of sight comm unit so much larger in size that it can't be contained in a drone with a camera?

      The article also states that the drones will increase the stealth of the parent vessel, however, it would seem that three non-stealthy drones operating together would call a lot of attention especially if one is broadcasting EW signals! I wonder how far the line of sight comm distance is?

    4. Good questions that need to be answered. Maybe the camera drone is flying at the maximum altitude of the camera, limiting its communication range, and the third drone acting as a relay offsets that limitation.

    5. "Maybe the camera drone is flying at the maximum altitude of the camera, limiting its communication range, and the third drone acting as a relay offsets that limitation."

      If so, this suggests a couple of things. One, the camera drone must be recording real time imagery or else it could just periodically pop up to a higher altitude and transmit its info. Two, the camera performance must be pretty limited in terms of field of view and resolution if the difference between 1000 ft and 5000 ft is critical. This suggests something about the "power" of small UAVs which is that they're not as all-seeing as so many people want to believe.

      Regardless, it's interesting to see that the Russians at least have a concept of operations as opposed to our efforts which seem awfully haphazard.

    6. On the camera, the drone flies at an altitude of 1 to 1.5 km or roughly 3,300 to 5,000 feet. But, the camera does appear to be limited in field of view and resolution.

      On the EW drone, maybe for naval operations the EW package is geared towards detecting signals as opposed to jamming. What is there to jam in the open ocean, anyway?

      I'm thinking the EW drone is there to listen for possible targets. And, after it finds one and the communication drone reports back to base, the trio is then directed to the source of the signal for a look see by the camera drone. Just conjecture on my part.

      I think the reason for the three drones is that the payload available in the Orlan-10 payload is limited in terms of size, weight and power. Per Wiki, the payload is 6 kg. A five pound bag can only hold five pounds.

      This makes me wonder if we could do something similar with the Scan Eagle, like using them in pairs with one acting as a relay alllowing the other to fly farther out.

      I'm not sure the Russians are ahead of us, but they seem to have a good concept here.

    7. "Scan Eagle, like using them in pairs"

      Well worth exploring. The Russians are well ahead of us in terms of having a CONOPS. We're still just stumbling around with no concrete idea how to use UAVs in war.

    8. I wouldn't go that far. Nobody operates a UAV like our Reapers and Predators, though China and Russia are making some progress.

    9. We have no idea how to operate large, slow, non-stealthy UAVs like Reapers/Predators in war. They're non-survivable so how would they be used? We haven't worked that out yet. In contrast, everything the Russians do is geared directly at combat so, yes, they're well ahead of us in that respect.


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