Magazine article National Defense

Navy, Marines Set Their Sights on Agile, More Proficient UAVs

Magazine article National Defense

Navy, Marines Set Their Sights on Agile, More Proficient UAVs

Article excerpt

Vertical take-off, high payload unmanned aerial vehicle required for blue water, littoral scanning

"The immense potential of unmanned aerial vehicles..is becoming increasingly evident," observed Rear Adm. Barton D. Strong, USN, program executive officer for joint unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in recent congressional testimony.

Capturing this potential though is the challenge at hand. It means providing the tactical warfighter with UAVs. In the Navy and Marine Corps, it means providing tactical warfighters with a vertical take-off and landing UAV that will better enable them to operate "from the sea."

U.S. naval forces have demonstrated the importance of tactical UAVs. From June to October 1996, a Marine Corps unmanned aerial vehicle squadron, VMU-1, provided real-time imagery support for the Implementation Force (IFOR) in BosniaHerzegovina.

The U.S. Sixth Fleet, additionally, has repeatedly provided offshore UAV support from amphibious docking ships (LPDs) operating in the Adriatic Sea. These naval assets were specifically used for surveillance of population centers and suspected terrorist training areas, as well as, route reconnaissance for IFOR units.

During the Gulf War, UAVs flew more than 550 combat reconnaissance missions. The Navy used UAVs for target selection, spotting, and damage assessment for naval gunfire that destroyed Iraqi defenses on the Kuwaiti coastline. Marines used UAVs to direct air strikes and provide near-real time intelligence for special operations.

"We received an inkling of what combat will look like in the 21st century during Desert Storm and recently in our support of NATO action in Bosnia. In both cases, unmanned aerial vehicles have demonstrated the ability to provide continuous real-time battlefield surveillance," said Paul G. Kaminski, former undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology.

Dr. Kaminski directed the Army to explore how UAVs could be used to leverage aviation assets.

While the Navy and the Marines have demonstrated the art of the possible, current tactical-level UAVs are impractical for use throughout the fleet. In recent years, shipboard deployment has been limited to three LPDs, primarily because of the difficulties associated with fixed-wing UAVs.

A 1995 General Accounting Office Report addressed the problems of a fixed-wing UAV on combatant ships. According to the report, commanders of the Pacific Fleet, Atlantic Fleet, and Naval Forces in Europe objected to the deployment of the fixed-wing Hunter UAV because of its adverse impact on flight operations on air capable ships.

As the report noted, "Since the Hunter (UAV) cannot take-off and land vertically, a ships crew would have to clear the back half of the ship's deck to allow Hunter operations...the crew would also have to erect a protective barrier to shield parked aircraft from a possibly errant, or out of control 1,500 pound Hunter UAV."

This launch and recovery of a fixed-wing UAV requires about one hour.

Current UAVs systems also require a considerable amount of storage space, which is especially limited aboard amphibious ships. For example, the Hunter UAV system with all related equipment requires 12,000 cubic feet on each ship. Its embarkation aboard amphibious ships would mean that fewer helicopters, artillery and Marines could be deployed than what would normally be the case.

Fleet commanders, moreover, want a substantially more capable UAV.

According to a recent study contracted by the UAV joint program office, none of the existing or programmed tactical UAVs can perform the top 50 percent of naval missions which include electronic warfare, amphibious operations, situational awareness, communications, battle damage assessment, over-the-horizon targeting, ship detection, and naval surface fire support.

The inability of these UAVs to accomplish these missions is attributable to their shortfalls in range, endurance, payload capacity and on-board electrical power availability. …

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