June 19, 2016

Seaplanes, Electric-planes and submarines can be a more powerful combination

Could seaplane technology be a force multiplier aligned with advances in stealthy, electrically-powered “E-Planes”, some of which could be airborne almost indefinitely? Today, other maritime nations, and nations with maritime aspirations – such as Russia, China, Japan, Germany and Canada – each have impressive seaplane or amphibious aircraft programs underway.

For purely military considerations, seaplanes can address urgent needs in coastal warfare, port security, maritime patrol, cyber warfare and decentralized “swarm” defense and attack.

Seaplanes, “E-planes”, and submarines may in fact be powerful cross-multipliers of force. The modern submarine’s almost unlimited capability for electrical generation and water electrolysis could provide indefinite fuel for stealth electrical or fuel cell engines of manned or unmanned sea planes and drones. Similarly, high-persistence sea planes could be the disposable, semi-autonomous eyes, ears, and delivery/retrieval platforms of submarines submerged many miles away. Perhaps most importantly, seaplanes could augment the recent increased national emphasis on cyber defense. Standing patrols would help address not just domestic cyber threats per-se, but the entire spectrum of offshore cyber, radio, electronic and electromagnetic threats. And they could ensure that such defense is not merely optimized for the Navy’s own networks and systems – vital as this is – but that it can efficiently protect American civilian assets with an effective deterrence and response – keeping these electronic and tangible “rogue waves” far from our shorelines.

In hindsight, the incremental costs and risks of a re-invigorated seaplane program can be expected to be a small fraction of the $40 billion spent on the V-22, with benefits and aircraft survivability equal or greater.

Japanese ShinMaywa US-2 seaplane used for air-sea rescue. Image courtesy Wikipedia/Toshiro Aoki

The US Navy was experimenting with floodable wings and more fishlike designs such as the lab’s experimental “Wrasse-inspired Agile Near-shore Deformable-fin Automaton,” or WANDA. Built to mimic the movement of a fish called the bird wrasse, the WANDA’s moving fins may prove too fragile for a machine hitting the water at relatively high speed. Flimmer is a flying and swimming duck drone currently in development by the Naval Research Laboratory.

SOURCES- Defense One, USNI

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