greyhoundIt looks like the Navy is getting an UAV mid-air tanker. That’s great–it forces the Navy to really incorporate a UAV into the daily grind of carrier operations. It’s the fastest route to UAV normalization, and it offers a spiral route to something far more interesting.

The little kid in me would have have loved to have seen something more ambitious. A high-end stealthy strike UAV would have been a fantastic super-tech stretch goal, but, if approved for procurement, the program was destined to become the “Son of F-35”, too bloody expensive to field. A competing idea, designing and fielding a lower-end light-strike UAV ISR platform, was viable, but that simple program would have ended up strangling the thriving ISR/light strike niche–an area of real innovation in the fleet.

A no-frills UAV tanker is a perfect middle ground.

Interestingly enough, I proposed something similar two years ago, suggesting that the Navy focus on building a UAV tanker/COD airframe. I wrote:

Predator-c-avenger-5In my mind, while the big four work on the challenges of a high-tech UCLASS, there is ample room to develop something fast that can serve as both a heavy air freighter (Those big F-35 engines aren’t going to be schlepped around by the much-ballyhooed future MV-22 CODs anytime soon!) and air-to-air tanker. It’d get a long-range, unmanned platform on a carrier–letting the carrier work out how to interact with a UAV while also getting accustomed to a longer-range platform.

It would also give the aerospace majors an opportunity to start playing–right now–in the unmanned cargo delivery space–getting FAA approvals for operations gets a whole lot easier if you’ve been flying off of carriers and in-and-out of bases for awhile….and for that, I’d wager the aerospace majors would pay a premium.

Looks like we’re getting something similar. From the esteemed Chris Cavas at Defense News:

Enter the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System, or CBARS.

Very few details are known about CBARS — some sources were familiar with the effort but not the acronym. But it seems a significant portion of the UCLASS effort will now be directed to produce a carrier-based aerial tanker, able to refuel other planes low on gas.

X-47BDefense Secretary Ash Carter could reveal the decision Tuesday morning when he’s to speak about the fiscal 2017 budget submission at the Economic Club in Washington. The budget itself is scheduled to be delivered to Congress on Feb. 9.

Several sources contacted for this article confirmed the role of CBARS will be primarily tanking, “with a little ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance].”

Strike capabilities, the sources all said, would be put off to a future version of the aircraft.

This all makes sense. Think of it as a first step in a long spiral that will get us a carrier-based long-range unmanned strike platform. Go Navy!

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Talking LCS Testing in Popular Mechanics

by admin on February 2, 2016

Image converted using ifftoanyJust a quick note that erstwhile freelancer Kyle Mizokami reached out to talk LCS testing, and the result was this:

“Combat tests help remind us that in battle, winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” Dr. Craig Hooper, Senior Analyst at Gryphon Scientific and blogger at NextNavy.com told Popular Mechanics. “Many ships fail their first operational tests, and struggle to make new sensors, weapons, combat systems, and crews work as a cohesive unit.”

The Littoral Combat Ship program has been trimmed from 52 ships to 40, in large part due to technical problems with the ship. Regardless of the eventual fate of the program, the U.S. Navy must get littoral combat right.

“There are no second chances in combat,” Dr. Hooper warns.

indy bridge wingsNow, as followers of this blog know, I’m no fan of DOT&E. In short, the office has gotten far too powerful, and it loves to play politics (the constant well-timed stream of LCS leaks to Bloomberg’s LCS-hating Tony Cappacio is one example). My sense is that some in DOT&E believe the office is a shadow Department of Defense and that J. Michael Gilmore is essentially a shadow Defense Secretary. And for platforms that are systems-of-systems (with each separate system marching down their own testing plan), the testing process is a teeth-grinding exercise in exasperating testing purgatory. And God help you if your program isn’t popular–DOT&E will pull no punches for a poor program manager.

It’s all a far more messy process than it needs to be. My sense is that the Testing Process is so daunting it strangles innovation–and keeps marginal platforms in production far longer than they should be. Just watch the ship classes that have made it through the testing process–each new hull gets delivered, and then they’re quietly whisked off to a different shipyard that, more often than not, adds a whole bunch of critical untested mods. Good Navy folks are doing rhetorical gymnastics to operate within the confines of a tested program of record. Given the current testing environment, the fielding of new, untested stuff is often too hard and too risky to even try. Testing is great, but…something is wrong when testing is too daunting and too biased for innovators to risk.

But DOT&E isn’t all bad

In the LCS trial–testing LCS efficacy against a small set of drone combatants–DOT&E conducted a fairly straightforward, relatively simple operational test. And the results were not good. Now…we can bicker over the details–yes, there were no missiles, and the MH-60R was apparently absent (and is, itself, still marching through tests too). But there were plenty of other troubling issues that strongly suggest the ship really wasn’t ready.

The test–along with others–did not reflect well upon the LCS Program. Follow the link and read up.

The issues that were identified must be fixed. LCS 4 will be deployed pretty soon, and that ship needs to be ready to fight. The idea that the 57mm is causing shock problems years after LCS 4 commissioning suggests that the 57mm gun should have been fired far more than it has been–if that gun is still brining cables down and breaking combat-critical systems while firing, there’s a problem someplace.

In conclusion, DOT&E testing is, for all parties, annoying and often excessive. But their combat tests–or “operational test events”–are often pretty solid tests of operational efficacy. The Navy should accept the LCS test results and really hustle to keep the reported testing failures from happening a second time.

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Warfighting Navies Need Fleet Trains

January 15, 2016

No gallant surface warrior wants to hear this, but it is high time for the US to build (or acquire) a few boring surface ship/sub tenders and fleet train support elements. America needs these assets. Look at the aged, 37-year old USS Emory S. Land (AS 39)  and USS Frank Cable (AS 40). They were […]

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Congratulations Mr. Stackley!

January 7, 2016

Mr. Sean Stackley, the long-serving, low-profile Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, has served in his post for seven years and five months. He has beaten Franklin D. Roosevelt’s long-standing record tenure as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Seven years and four months–from March 17, 1913 to August 6, 1920–I […]

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Salvaging Sub Tech From A Sinking Rolls Royce?

December 30, 2015

I have a real soft spot for the soon-to-be-dismantled Rolls-Royce Holdings (slow-moving, ossified, and un-repentant 19th-Century holdover that it is).  And though I would hate to see Rolls sold for parts, some creative disassembly of Rolls Royces’ sinking Maritime Division will be required for the company to survive. And that’s a shame. The ocean-focused division […]

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Groundhog Day For American LCUs

December 14, 2015

After more than twenty years of trying, America’s failure to recapitalize the humble Landing Craft, Utility, or LCU, is inexplicable. “Oh, but it’s really happening this time”, claim the learned observers. “Why,” they say, “today, we have an RFI out for a “NEW” LCU 1700 program, asking if shipbuilders can finalize a design (shudder) and […]

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The ACV Program Advances!

November 28, 2015

For those who have been reading me over the years, it should come as no surprise that I am a big fan of the U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV 1.1) Program (look here and here). I mean, heck, I was for the ACV 1.1 Program back when it was originally the Marine Personnel […]

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The Fight For DDG-1004 Has Begun

March 9, 2015

Love the DDG-1000 or hate it, supporters of America’s multi-billion dollar “battleship-as-destroyer” program have largely been–up to now–quiet on the sidelines of Washington’s unseemly post-Sequestration budget scrum. In the vast array of American defense programs desperate to avoid closure, an old survivor like DDG-1000 (previously known as the arsenal ship, the DD(X), etc., etc.) has […]

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Mulling Mr. Stackley’s Exit

February 28, 2015

It’s rumored that Mr. Sean Stackley, the long-serving, low-profile Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, is contemplating exit strategies. Passed over for Navy Undersecretary, and with Sequestration eating away the research budget, big and ugly first-in-class problems looming for both the Ford Class CVN and the DDG-1000, the F-35…and the festering […]

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We’re Back!

February 16, 2015

Forgive the blog pause. A lot has been going on. We’ve moved; I am now based in the Washington DC region, where I have joined a boutique national security/strategy consulting firm. (So here’s the obligatory reminder that the views expressed here are my own and do not represent my employer.). Also, my youngster is getting […]

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