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06-05-2008, 09:42
Navy Slow to Embrace Armed Drones

June 03, 2008

Associated Press<!-- Uncomment this when the Jive comments functionality is available -->

ABOARD THE USS HARRY S TRUMAN - The Navy lags well behind the Air Force in the development of armed drones - the unmanned aircraft now used increasingly in Iraq and Afghanistan - insisting that its "Top Gun" fighter pilots are still smarter, better and more flexible in combat.
But the contrasting visions for the next generation of America's air arsenal point to wider debates within the military about the pace of incorporating remote-control technology into future battle strategies.

It also touches on differences in military cultures - with the Navy coming under criticism for its apparent resistance to substitute fighter pilot training and instincts with aircraft guided by operators who can be thousands of miles away.

For the moment, the Navy is deeply committed to plans for the F-35 fighter jet and developing a drone fleet strictly for surveillance and other non-weapon tasks. The Air Force, meanwhile, has used armed drones for years and appears to embody Pentagon trends to encourage drones as a way to reduce costs and consolidate personnel.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in a speech in April, called on the Air Force and other military officials to rethink "long-standing service assumptions and priorities about which missions require certified pilots, and which do not."

Gates added that "unmanned systems cost much less and offer greater loiter times than their manned counterparts - making them ideal for many of today's tasks."

But many Navy pilots believe the drone technology has its limits when called on to strike targets, saying that pilots cannot be fully replaced.
"I'm not worried about losing my job, let me put it that way," said Lt. Cmdr. Brice Casey, an F/A-18 fighter jet pilot, speaking after a mission over Iraq from the USS Harry S. Truman, which recently ended a deployment in the Persian Gulf.

The Navy currently uses Global Hawk reconnaissance drones and is developing a helicopter-like unmanned aircraft called the Fire Scout that can take off and land vertically on ships. But neither operate off aircraft carriers or possess strike capability.

Last year, the Navy awarded its first-ever contract for a drone that will be able to operate from a carrier. It isn't scheduled for deployment until 2025 and is also limited to reconnaissance missions.

That puts the Navy many years behind the Air Force, which first used an armed version of the Predator drone in combat in Afghanistan in 2001. The Air Force's latest version, the Reaper, can carry up to 14 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles or alternately, four Hellfires and two 500-pound bombs over Iraq, Afghanistan or other war zones.

Tom Ehrhard, an expert on unmanned aircraft at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, predicted it would take pressure from Congress and the defense secretary to "continue to move the Navy down this path" toward an eventual armed drone. Ehrhard is a former Air Force officer.

The Air Force has taken some of its pilots out of the air to staff drones to try to keep up with increased demand from soldiers on the battlefield. But the Navy says drones are no substitute for trained pilots in the cockpit.
Unmanned aircraft are good for targeted strikes, but less effective in quick-changing, dynamic combat situations, said Navy fighter pilots aboard the USS Truman. The pilots contend that technicians piloting drones by video and computer from afar might not get a full visual sense - or the intangible "feel" - for a combat scene.

Drones also perform well in places with limited anti-aircraft capabilities - such as Iraq and Afghanistan - but could be easier targets for ground-based rockets in places with more advanced systems.
"There is a lot that I can do and relay and make decisions in real-time - based on being at the scene - that a guy is going to have a very difficult time making from one camera," said Cmdr. Bill Sigler, head of an F/A-18 fighter jet squadron on the USS Truman.

The Navy officially backs that position.
"Manned aircraft still retain relevancy in scenarios where airborne decision-making is critical to mission success," said Navy spokesman Lt. Clay Doss.

He cited close air support, where pilots provide air cover for troops on the ground, and also direct ground attack "where dynamic maneuvering and/or visual situational awareness is necessary."

The Navy will look at strike capability for future generations of its carrier drone, Doss said. But he stressed that the aircraft would not replace the Navy's fighter pilots anytime in the foreseeable future.

The Navy also worries about drone reliability and safety.

The Navy developed its first unmanned combat aircraft in the 1950s and 1960s. But the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter, which operated off destroyers and frigates, was plagued by accidents and pilot error, and half were lost.

The Navy's current program consists of a $646 million contract to Northrop Grumman Corp. to build an unmanned jet, known as the X-47B, able to take off and land from an aircraft carrier. The first test flight is scheduled for late 2009, with a deployment date of 2025.

Since the drone won't carry any weapons, airstrikes will presumably be done by the next-generation F-35, which the Navy is expected to receive in 2015.

But Ehrhard noted a drone carrying the same weapons payload as the F-35 would have two and a half times the range of a manned aircraft without refueling, and could remain over the battlefield 5 to 10 times as long.
He called that increased reach critical as the military reduces the size and number of bases overseas, while needing to monitor remote spots around the globe.

"What the Navy doesn't want is a competitor for the F-35 program," said Ehrhard. "The F-35 program is their strike aircraft, so saying they are going to develop another strike aircraft conflicts with their own program."
Ehrhard said drones with full strike capability operating off aircraft carriers "will always be at least another generation of pilots away."

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Navy = ancient history lessons that aren't even Germain = stalling changes and making excuses :steamed:

It is about the loss of "control"! :upeyes:

"The Navy developed its first unmanned combat aircraft in the 1950s and 1960s. But the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter, which operated off destroyers and frigates, was plagued by accidents and pilot error, and half were lost."

06-05-2008, 16:51
What do the Germans have to do with this? :tongueout:

06-16-2008, 12:30
When the Navy dropped the DASH Program they sold the drones to the Germans. Other than that, nothing.

There was nothing wrong with the DASH Program. Yes, they lost some drones but many of the destroyer skippers wouldn't let the crews fly enough to stay in practice. Many of the crews didn't pull the required operational checks to make sure they were flight worthy. The destroyer skippers wanted a real helo so that they could fly over to the carrier and suck up to the Admiral. They didn't see the DASH as helping their promotional chances.

I worked on those drones and we flew the **** ot of them in Vietnam chasing small boats and such. If I could have found a couple Ma Deuces to mount on the drone we would have been the terror of the South China Sea.

Did you know you could sink a small boat with a gallon can of hydrolic fluid by dropping it from a couple hundred feet.

Fred Hansen
06-16-2008, 13:19

Navy = ancient history lessons that aren't even Germain = stalling changes and making excuses :steamed:

It is about the loss of "control"! :upeyes:

"The Navy developed its first unmanned combat aircraft in the 1950s and 1960s. But the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter, which operated off destroyers and frigates, was plagued by accidents and pilot error, and half were lost."Germain? :rofl:

Seriously, I wouldn't trust a single word published by the Associated Press.

I would also like to know what a Navy pilot would have to say about the feasibility of landing these drones on a carrier deck. My guess would be that there are some lag time/response time issues that perhaps weren't discussed, or (more likely) were ignored by the leftist urinalist responsible for this hit piece on the Navy.

There are some Navy/Marine Corps jet-jocks on this board; maybe one or more of them will chime in, but as far as I'm concerned, the needs and missions of the Navy are different than those of the Air Force, and this particular MSM hit piece seems to want to gloss over those glaring differences.

06-16-2008, 14:21
I agree 100 percent about the AP.

If you can land a drone helo on a pitching destroyer deck, a carrier is a piece of cake.

Actually they tried to use pilots to fly the drones and they couldn't do it because they got disoriented standing on the ground and watching the helo in the air. They kept trying to fly it as if they were sitting in the drone.

The drone was cheap compared to an airplane. The drone cost $100,000 ready to fly while the torpedoes we carried were over a million a piece. The Navy's attitude was if you dropped a million dollar weapon and killed a $500,000,000 submarine, they didn't really care whether you got the drone back or not.

As far as the Navy lagging behind, who else was flying offensive drones in 1960?

06-16-2008, 14:25
What do the Germans have to do with this? :tongueout:

The navy hates them since they bombed Pearl Harbor.

06-17-2008, 09:22
I just keep thinking about the army drones that we had flying in Iraq. Every few days, they would come out with a new piece of "intelligence" that they wanted us to investigate. The rocket tubes in a field were actually irrigation pipes. The farmer burying an IED was actually digging an irrigation ditch. The pickup with an IED in the back was never at the house they told us it was.

Basically, we wasted ridiculous amounts of time chasing down these false leads, sometimes stopping productive missions to do so. We received ZERO usable intelligence from these drones in our entire tour.

So, I have some sympathy for the Navy. Do drone operators really get a good feel for the battlefield? Can we really trust their judgment?