More Combat Drones

Teal Group’s 2012 market study estimates that UAV spending will almost double over the next decade from current worldwide UAV expenditures of $6.6 billion annually to $11.4 billion, totaling just over $89 billion in the next ten years. The U.S. will account for 62% of the worldwide research and development spending on UAV technology over the next decade, and 55% of the procurement.

Darpa announced a program to design something called the TERN, for Tactically Exploitative Reconnaissance Node, a surveillance and strike drone that can fly up to 900 miles from the deck of a destroyer or Littoral Combat Ship. Darpa wants it to be “substantially beyond current state-of-the-art aviation capabilities from smaller ships,” according to the full, formal solicitation for the drone.

The Navy and the Air Force are working on a master concept for future partnered operations called AirSea Battle. Pentagon architects have yet to articulate how specifically long-range bombers and stealth jets are supposed to work alongside carrier strike groups, submarines or close-to-shore fighters like the Littoral Combat Ship.

The TERN program points to a potential solution: Design the data links on a long-endurance drone at sea to be bilingual. It surely won’t be easy to build a software layer that can communicate with both Air Force planes and Navy ships. But it’s probably easier, and cheaper, than retrofitting the communications systems on planes, subs and ships for maximum compatibility or demanding that defense companies build future flying and sailing platforms with that goal in mind.

After Aircraft Carriers

#e Nimitz-class carriers can generate approximately 120 sorties a day. The Ford-class carriers, with the new electromagnetic aircra” launch system (EMALS), are projected to launch around 160 sorties per day, a 33 percent increase in launch capacity. This seems very impressive until one realizes that the USS George H.W. Bush, the last Nimitz carrier, cost $7 billion and the USS Gerald R. Ford is coming in at $13.5 billion. In the end, the nation is paying nearly 94 percent more for a carrier that can only do 33 percent more work.

After World War II, the Strategic Bombing Survey team calculated that it took 240 tons of bombs to drop one bridge spanning a river. By 1965 in Vietnam that number had only come down to 200 tons, but shortly thereafter, American investment in precision strike weapons really began to pay off. By 1999 only 4 tons of bombs were needed to accomplish the mission, regardless of the weather at the target. Couple this fact with the observation by Colin Powell – former secretary of state, national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – that modern warfare plays out under “Pottery Barn rules” (if you break it, you own it and you will pay to replace it). Reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan has cost the American taxpayer more than $109 billion since 2002.

The inefficiency of manned aviation, with its massive fiscal overhead of training, pilot currency and maintenance, is rapidly outpacing its utility. The idea that the United States needs a large sortie capability inexorably drives decision makers to large carriers.

All these factors indicate that a turn toward UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles) is long overdue.

The Navy could potentially replace the aviation capability of today’s supercarriers with … most other ships in the fleet. Increasingly, all new warships — from the small Littoral Combat Ships to the latest Lewis and Clark-class supply vessels — come with extra-large flight decks. More and more, every ship is partially a carrier.

Combat drones could supplement every ship.

If you liked this article, please give it a quick review on ycombinator or StumbleUpon. Thanks