back to article US Navy robot stealth fighter in first unmanned carrier landings

The last of the great barriers has fallen: an unmanned aircraft has successfully made autonomous arrested landings on the deck of an aircraft carrier. It's now plain that robots are not just as good as human pilots - they are as good as the best human pilots. As most regular Reg readers will be aware, the X-47B project …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Peter Bennett 1

    Well, that's another thing we won't be able to do from our new carrier(s).

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Mind you, a S/VTOL aircraft without a pilot can only be an improvement, (less weight mainly), and given that the F35 is cram packed full of computers to do everything already, why not just remove the pilot all together and use it as a drone?

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: phuzz

        ".....why not just remove the pilot all together and use it as a drone?" Because a human pilot can face an infinite number of possible scenarios, assess each one, and make a decision on the spot. It would be impossible to program a drone with every possible occurence, so if the mission parameters wander too far from the ones thought likely the drone will need a remote operator to tell it what to do. In such situations, the on-the-spot pilot will shoot down the waiting-for-instructions-down-a-high-latency-satellite-link drone.

        1. JLV
          Thumb Down

          Re: phuzz

          >a human pilot can face an infinite number of possible scenarios

          Sorry. No go. It's not so much that you are wrong as this is just the canned glib answer BS that we can expect over the next 20 years or so to justify the F35 against hell and high water. I don't want my tax dollars wasted, or my country's servicemen put in danger, with no more reasoning than this argument. Wars have been lost, often, by focusing on the wrong weapons and tactics for reasons of tradition.

          If you are talking US vs. China air to air, the scenarios are fairly limited - if it flies and the IFF says it's not yours, shoot it down.

          And, if you are talking US vs. China airstrikes, I expect that a whole lot of non-scenario-aware missiles are going to be called for before any pilots fly over hot zones.

          IF, and that's a big if, the F35 is as capable as its price tag makes it out to be, I suspect the Chinese will bypass trying to field their own manned jet fighters against it and opt for drones or other approaches themselves. Don't fight to your enemy's strengths.

          Now, if you are talking avoiding civilian casualties in minor wars, that's indeed another story. Some experts have been advocating a return to slower aircraft like A10s or even prop-driven planes to allow human pilots _time_ to assess your scenarios and not shoot up weddings or the like. F35s in all that?

          Footnote: Western military planners are correct to focus high-cost items on a possible war with China. But this is also a very dangerous game to play - arms races can be easier to get into than to get out of. Procuring masses of very expensive hardware with no other credible opponent sends a signal Chinese planners would be daft to ignore.

          1. Robert Helpmann??
            Childcatcher

            Re: phuzz

            ...the Chinese will bypass trying to field their own manned jet fighters against it and opt for drones or other approaches themselves. Don't fight to your enemy's strengths.

            I think an apt comparison from the tank world might be the Panzer versus the Sherman. How impressive would it be for 100s of highly trained pilots flying very expensive birds to wipe out 1000s of cheap UAVs, but still go down to the rest after all the crewed vehicles ran out of munitions? I guess it would take a tragedy of this magnitude to get some minds changed.

          2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: JLV Re: phuzz

            "....... I suspect the Chinese will bypass trying to field their own manned jet fighters....." If only you had done some research - the Chinese are spending billions trying to copy Western stealth tech, such as with the J-31.

            1. JLV
              Thumb Down

              Re: JLV phuzz

              "Spending billions". Oh, impressed I am, Matt. How _many_ billions is that, on the J31? Good of you if you can share with us, since defense analysts struggle to estimate PLA purchasing power from its official budget.

              7 F35s, at a unit cost of 150M$ for the A variant, work out to 1.0B$. What's intended procurement, just for the US? 1500 F35s, down from 2400+ earlier on? What does that work out to - 250B$? You can fit a lot of "Chinese billions" in that kitty. Besides, if the Chinese want us to mis-allocate spending, they do need to prime their threats with a bit of pertinent kit.

              Another example of not playing to enemy strength, the Chinese have also spent billions buying the Liaoning, their new aircraft carrier. Are the US carrier battle groups quaking in their boots? Not really, because they still outclass the Chinese.

              They are however rather more worried about the DF-21D, a supposedly anti-ship capable ballistic missile. Given the cost of a carrier, it is really worrying that they might (not proven) be able to take out one of those and neutralize the huge sunken cost of carrier battle groups. That's exactly what the Chinese should aim to do - play on our hugely lengthy and costly development cycles to bankrupt us on committing to acquire weapons superbly fitted to fight the last wars but not proven to work for the next one. Their 2007 anti-satellite test served the same purpose.

              There're plenty of unsolved issues that preclude an air-to-air autonomous drone today. And in 10 yrs too, most likely. Wanna bet they won't be solved in 20 yrs? 30 yrs? That's how long fighters typically fly for.

              One possible approach is way more X47 type exploratory R&D, budget for training and retain manufacturing capability, rather than commit straight out to particular weapons platforms too long in advance. Shorten development cycles and aim to lower unit costs. Given some lead time, conventional weapons can be cranked out and nukes should keep a first-tier opponent from gambling too aggressively in the short term. Remain nimble at procurement in other words.

              That's one view and it may very well be wrong. But our militaries do need a substantial debate and not just "we need a 5th gen at any cost and we'll lie to you about that cost if we have to".

              1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
                FAIL

                Re: JLV Re: JLV phuzz

                ".....How _many_ billions is that, on the J31?...." Out of their much smaller military budget, quite a chunk, apparently.

                ".....They are however rather more worried about the DF-21D...." <Sigh> You really missed the bit about the constant development of countermeasures. The DF-21 is not the first time someone has thought of using a nuke-tipped missile to blast a fleet, the Soviets having put a lot and time and thought into the idea. Hence the USN's adoption of anti-ICBM kit like the SM-3 missiles. There's also the measures the USN could use prior to moving into an area threatened by DF-21s, such as wiping out the Chinese GPS satellites that the DF-21 is reliant on and the Chinese long-range radar (the more sneaky-minded might suspect that one of the roles of the X-41 secret spaceplane is to launch fake Chinese and Russian GPS satellites to confuse and degrade their GPS systems). Kinda hard to even hit something as big as a carrier when the oceans are so massive and you don't know where to shoot, and just imagine the fun if you accidentally fry a Russian warship! And if worst came to worst, the Chinese only have about 80 units, so the US could swamp the launch sites with hundreds of air-launched cruise missiles - much cheaper than DF-21s.

                "..... That's exactly what the Chinese should aim to do - play on our hugely lengthy and costly development cycles to bankrupt us....." Yeah, I think the USSR tried that, it didn't work out too well for them. You do remember that whole falling of the Berlin Wall thing, or were you not born then? The US military budget still dwarves that of even the Chinese and they are nowhere near the capability of the US in areas such as space, let alone ballistic missiles and missile defence measures.

                1. JLV
                  Facepalm

                  Re: JLV JLV phuzz

                  >The DF-21 is not the first time someone has thought of using a nuke-tipped missile to blast a fleet

                  The whole point of this _new_ Chinese carrier-threatening approach is that is NOT using nukes.

                  Does it work? Can it be countered? Who knows, but how can you write this rebuttal and not be aware that the _primary_ characteristic of this weapon is that it does not rely on nukes?

                  If you don't even know that much, do you expect me to take any of your other arguments seriously? Really?

        2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: phuzz

          "Because a human pilot can face an infinite number of possible scenarios, assess each one, and make a decision on the spot."

          Utter crock. No wait, it's Matt Bryant. Talking whatever.

          Could you dig out any commentary of yours on chess computers before Big Blue, Matt? Just want to check.

        3. Steven Roper

          @ Matt Bryant

          I just rewatched the Star Trek Voyager episode in which B'elanna has to go aboard a Cardassian-built, reprogrammed-for-the-Maquis, smart missile that got pulled into the Delta Quadrant and is now on its way to wipe out an innocent populated planet, thinking it's the original Cardassian target. The smart missile's computer assumes that B'elanna is being coerced by the Cardassians when she tries to shut it down, and does everything in its power to thwart her efforts.

          I'd have to laugh if something similar happened to one of these drones. I'd be holding my sides if one of these things got turned arse-about-face and set off to take out the White House, dismissing all attempts to stop it as the result of its controllers acting under Chinese duress!

        4. Matt_payne666
          Mushroom

          Re: phuzz - Pedant alert....

          an infinite number of choices? that's every possible choice at that moment, in the past and in the future...

          surely an infinite number of decisions would take an infinite amount of time to compute (human or machine)

          nuke - as that's what would happen to any brain faced with that sort of choice!

  2. Mr C

    The tech going into making this work is amazing.

    I know a few things about robotics, sensors, and more stuff thats needed and they achieved something extraordinary.

    Question is if this technology will be used for the greater good or if its kept back for a tactical advantage, if its the latter i pity the wasted creative hours spend by engineers which could've been put to good use elsewhere.

    1. Don Jefe
      Happy

      The biggest achievements require one to have their own aircraft carrier on which to apply them. The automated landing bit is already commercially available, it is very possible the pilot commanded no input on landing during your last flight. R/C aircraft can land themselves too, but not as reliably.

      But yes, I agree with your overall sentiment, more military technology should be in the public sphere. A very large portion of military tech doesn't have to translate to explody things, that's just how it is used.

    2. Rusty 1
      Flame

      Just think where motion control automation like this could be used.

      We could have automated tube trains, in the 21st century! With even less technology, as the lefty-righty, uppy-downy, and twisty-turvy controls would be unnecessary, and just a faster-slower one needed. Well, might need additional tech to handle plebs blocking doors and the like, but more powerful actuators might suffice.

      Why not? Bob twat-dangle Crow. That's why we can't have it.

      1. Steve the Cynic

        re: automated tube trains

        I ride on fully automated Metro trains every working day. The Lille Metro has been fully automatic, with NO staff on the trains (not even a DLR-style conductor) since it was opened 30 years ago. It gave me the creepie-crawlies the first few times, but now it's just the way the Metro works. And it means I get trains once a minute at rush hour.

        1. cortland

          Re: automated tube trains

          It seems that airport automatic trams have been around forever, but that isn't the case; one (I forget which) when first turned on for public use, kept stopping midway between terminals, because, as it turned out, its computer interpreted any uncommanded change, even burnt out pilot lamps, as safety-critical failures.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: re: automated tube trains

          Copenhagen, Bangkok ... the list is very long.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Amazing in general, not specifically. Don't ask how I know.

      AC for obvious reasons

  3. Michael H.F. Wilkinson
    Coat

    Better landing than Topper Harley

    Sorry, time for me coat

    1. Maharg
      Happy

      Re: Better landing than Topper Harley

      I will have you know Topper’s landing was one of the greatest in Navy history.

      Admiral Benson on the other hand…

      “You know, I've personally flown over 194 missions and I was shot down on every one. Come to think of it, I've never landed a plane in my life”

  4. ElNumbre
    Paris Hilton

    Very Nice.

    Thats a good trick that.

    Now lets see you do it in a storm, with wet decks, and the boat bobbing up and down in a strong swell.

    PH, for her penchant for a swell and seamen.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Very Nice.

      By the same token, let's see a human pilot pull 30g for longer than about 2 seconds. This technology is here to stay.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Very Nice.

        Not to mention they never get tired or lose focus, don't need food or drink, don't need safety equipment/ejector seats of any kind, or a cockpit and if they crash you've only lost the airframe and not a pilot that cost millions to train.

        You can only resist progress for so long, there's just way too many advantages to these things.

        1. Jediben
          Terminator

          Re: Very Nice.

          They can't be bargained with. They can't be reasoned with. They don't show pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely will not stop - EVER - until you are dead.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Very Nice.

            they can be hacked.

        2. BigFire

          Re: Very Nice.

          The pilot on the remote control might get tired. But they work in shifts.

    2. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Very Nice.

      Aircraft carriers do not "bob up and down". And one assumes human pilots don't land in storm conditions either?

      1. LPF

        Re: Very Nice.

        And the last time you were on a carrier during a storm was when ? Seriously, what you just said was stupid! even super tankers bob up and down!

      2. Florida1920
        Facepalm

        Re: Very Nice.

        If you're miles out to sea, returning from a mission and a storm comes along, you have to land on the deck! Wars don't get paused for bad weather.

      3. Matthew 25
        WTF?

        Re: Very Nice.

        Most of the flying done by RN pilots during the Falklands was from carriers bobbing up and down during storms.

      4. Don Jefe
        Boffin

        Re: Very Nice. @JDX

        "Aircraft carriers do not "bob up and down"

        You are correct. But they sure as hell do pitch and roll. Most U.S. Navy surface ships have a design limit of 10 degrees pitch but can experience up to 11 degrees in heavy seas and maintain steerage. 1-2 degrees in a 'light' sea state is common. Pitch periods between perpendiculars of 8 seconds are experienced with carrier length ships in high seas.

        So it isn't a bob up and down motion. It is an incredible pitching motion that feels like a HUGE roller coaster at either end of the vessel and never stops and isn't remotely regular. Roll in large ships is somewhat mitigated by the sheer size of the vessels but it is nowhere close to stable.

        I have long ago forgotten the math, but you can plot pitch and roll of the vessel on a curve and do up a nifty sketch for yourself if the sheer scale movement isn't clear. The movies do a good job of making carriers and tankers look big, but absolutely nothing is stable in open water, even on a good day. Bad days are bad.

        1. JDX Gold badge

          Re: Very Nice. @JDX

          That's exactly what I mean Don, the period is far longer so it's not like you're landing on something which is jittering on every wave, the motion is regular and predictable and slow. The deck will not suddenly buck as you touch down.

          I din't claim the ship wouldn't move, that would be daft.

    3. Florida1920
      Thumb Up

      Re: Very Nice.

      Automated flight controls can respond faster than any human pilot. Storms, high seas and wet decks are where robotic aircraft will really prove their worth. George W. Bush could manage a carrier landing in good weather.

    4. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Very Nice.

      That's the next set of tests.

      Do you think they start humans out with the hardest task first?

    5. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Very Nice.

      ...Now lets see you do it in a storm, with wet decks, and the boat bobbing up and down in a strong swell....

      Do you really think that a robot won't beat a human hands down on a complex moving situation with gusting wind and shifting target? That's the kind of calculation they are built for...

  5. Alan Bourke

    Cool and all ...

    but I wonder would it do as well at night, with a huge sidewind and 40ft swell ...

    1. Aldous

      Re: Cool and all ...

      Night won't affect it as it is not as dependent on visuals as a human would be. Looking at this thread i think most commentards do not seem to get that this is not meant to belittle naval pilots skill (its fscking hard to do even in simulators let alone when your neck is on the line) but more that the robotics/coders/aviation engineers have increased their skills.

      Sure it might not be able to save itself if battle damaged beyond a certain point but who cares? Navy pilots that land severely damaged kit in barely flying condition are doing it to save themselves (the plane is often a write off at that point anyway). Ejection seats save your life but they often break legs and can cause your back to compress and end a military pilots career.

  6. Thrud61
    Mushroom

    I can't think of any good reason not qualify the automatic pilots for deck landings, if that is what the software is supposed to do then every time there is a change in the software I think I'd want it validated as still being a competent pilot, before I would let it slap into the back of my ship filled with fuel and possibly other explosives.

    1. Don Jefe
      Happy

      I believe the people in the software and hardware business refer to that process as testing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Actually we usually refer to it as "beta".

        Still the military development might have higher standards before shoving their software out to sink or fly.

      2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Holmes

        > refer to that process as testing

        In this case, statistical testing.

    2. Grikath
      Facepalm

      fuel/explosives?

      I would like to see a carrier pilot try and land with hardpoints still filled. The court-martial would be ....interesting...

      1. LPF

        Re: fuel/explosives?

        Are you serious ? what you think that if carrier pilots dont use all their air to air missles, they dump them in the sea ?? really???? :S

        1. ScottAS2

          Re: fuel/explosives?

          On Sea Harriers, they had to, at least if it was a warm day. They didn't have enough engine power to hover with more than a light weapon load. Search Lewis' other articles for "running jump jet" if you want the full details.

          1. SkippyBing

            Re: fuel/explosives?

            Oddly enough if you're above landing weight you dump fuel rather than weapons. Rarely do you plan to launch with so many stores you'll have to jettison them before landing, i.e. anything over that you'd expect to deliver somewhere else, ballistically.

            In fact Sea Harriers had an issue with repeated landings causing damage to AMRAAM missiles when they were carried for multiple flights.

            I wouldn't really trust Lewis' articles on aviation, as a pilot he makes a great diver...

  7. fishman

    Cyberdyne Systems

    A big step towards completely automating our armed forces. Sounds like something out of a movie.....

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If it is unmanned why does he still do the takeoff crouch action and wave at the thing. I'm sure it couldn't care less.

    1. BigFire

      The launch crew's visual queue is not all for the pilot. Remember, the catapult operator (sitting in a semi-sunk control box), the tower (on the Island), the other folks around the deck all takes their queue from the launch crew and his visual signals. Launching a plane from the deck of a carrier is less about a pilot than everyone else around. Only after he's launched does he really take control.

      1. Tom Maddox Silver badge
        Headmaster

        obSpellingCorrection

        "Cue," not "queue."

    2. Peter Ford

      I always assumed that was more a signal to the catapult operator that everything was ready to go, and warning the pilot that she's about to be launched...

      In this case the robot probably gets some other signal, unless the software is designed to assume that the shove in the back means "let's go!"

      1. Allonymous Coward
        IT Angle

        the robot probably gets some other signal

        I wonder if he could use a mouse with his other hand?

  9. Tom_

    Now they should work on getting rid of the meat from the carrier as well.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Terminator

    So "Tinman" is a go.

    Would could possibly go wrong?

    1. AceRimmer1980
      Pirate

      Re: So "Tinman" is a go.

      It will prove itself undefeatable in air combat, but will be busted by the RIAA, when it downloads every MP3

  11. MisterIrrelevant

    What about AEW?

    Surely a potentially even greater use of unmanned carrier aircraft would be a replacement for the E2? With no crew to rotate, more fuel capacity and the possibility of unmanned aerial refuelling a carried could potentially keep its radar coverage on station for days at a time. Indeed - it could be manned around the clock from land bases and free up a few bunks...

    1. bep

      Re: What about AEW?

      Quite, all the things that are 'routine' but still require carrier qualified pilots, like COD (Carrier on Board Delivery, at least that's what they used to call it), in other words the mail and beer run (and high value spares, of course). Crying out for a suitable drone, and the AEW thing has got to be the next option shirley?

      The broader point is that, once you no longer have overwhelming superiority, dispersal and muliplying your launch platforms becomes a lot more sensible. Smaller carriers carrying lots of drones give the potential enemy a different kind of headache. This is because the aircraft, whether manned or not, are still relatively fragile and if your big carrier suffers heavy damage you're likely to lose the lot.

  12. Jerry H. Appel
    Terminator

    Still not fully baked, but interesting.

    I agree with others that the test was successful in benign conditions. Others have mentioned the dangers of ejection, and as I have a friend who is a retired Marine Corp aviator and was night-landing qualified, they are all true. One ejection and it is all over for your back, and his just after a launch.

    Now as to the visual signal by the deck crew, according to Aviation Week & Space Technology, the deck controllers use an arm-mounted device to signal the robot what to do and where to go once on deck, nothing about launch, but I imagine someone has to signal the robot to go from idle to full-throttle. Don't you? Pilots drive these birds on the flight deck, so the robot has to respond to such signals.

    Agree that the UCLASS will be the Navy's answer for a stealthy strike/interdiction machine. F-18s do not cut the mustard in that arena, at all. Look at all the stuff hanging off the wings and fuselage! Really!

    I also agree that a UCLASS can certainly outmaneuver a man-driven aircraft given that it can be made both stealthy and extremely agile. You see the problem with stealthy flying wings is that they don't handle high alphas well or rapid directional changes well. If they did then they wouldn't be stealthy. Ever see a B-2 perform an aileron roll, a loop? Remember that Boeing 367 was rolled on an early flight to prove it was good enough, but no one is doing that with one of these stealthy robots . . . yet. Think about such a wing-based aircraft dealing with a dogfight situation with multiple bogies and missiles flying all over the place. Just try programming that!

    1. Marcelo Rodrigues
      Devil

      Re: Still not fully baked, but interesting.

      "I also agree that a UCLASS can certainly outmaneuver a man-driven aircraft given that it can be made both stealthy and extremely agile. You see the problem with stealthy flying wings is that they don't handle high alphas well or rapid directional changes well. If they did then they wouldn't be stealthy. Ever see a B-2 perform an aileron roll, a loop? Remember that Boeing 367 was rolled on an early flight to prove it was good enough, but no one is doing that with one of these stealthy robots . . . yet. Think about such a wing-based aircraft dealing with a dogfight situation with multiple bogies and missiles flying all over the place. Just try programming that!"

      I tought that F-22s and F-35s were quite agile. Aren't they? The B-2 is, indeed, more a flying beetle than anything else - but it is outdated technology. Their newer brothers are much better.

      About the dogfight... in my opinion they would be MUCH better than humans. Not today, not tomorrow. But give it a few years of research and development...

      A computer doesn't get nervous. It doesn't get distracted, and it have no problem prioritizing threats. It can, even, decide that self-sacrifice would be a good idea in a no-winning scenario. All it would have to do is avoid enemy fire long enough to do a kamikaze on target.

      Like this: (in pseudo code)

      "enemy fire detected. -> 5 missiles incomming. -> 3 enemy fighters and an enemy bomber (my target). -> evasion deemed impossible, no escape solution. -> alternate solution: evade long enough to explode/hit the target. -> EXECUTE."

      The bigger problem isn't the capability/feasibility - it is just that people are afraid of let the control go.

      1. Jerry H. Appel

        Re: Still not fully baked, but interesting.

        Oh, you make the programming seem so simple when all the actors are moving in all four dimensions and the UCLASS is acting alone, but I do agree about the robot being able to unblinkingly sacrifice itself. Of course given a quantum CPU this all takes no time, but we are not there yet. As to doing the kamikaze thing, remember there will be overlords/operators watching who just might override the robots decision making.

  13. b0hem1us

    What is so new about this?

    Autopilots have been landing on carriers forever. As a matter of fact our dynamics and controls professor at the university told us they had to program in an error because the autopilot was so good that the catching hook made a huge groove on the deck from landing on the same precise spot all the damn time.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: What is so new about this?

      This raises the questions:

      Is the autopoiot trusted enough to do this in shitty weather?

      What is the failure/go-round rate compared with flying in on fully manual control?

      Fuzzing the landing is also applied to civilian ILS autoland systems for the same reason - it was tearing up the same strip of runway.

    2. SkippyBing

      Re: What is so new about this?

      Indeed, I believe it's actually a version of the auto land used in the Super Hornet.

      The problem is, while you have human pilots, they have to keep in practice for those occasions when the auto-land doesn't work* which means most landings are done manually anyway...

      *Recent events in San Francisco indicate the civilian world may want to re-look at this.

  14. Rusty 1
    Happy

    Now what?

    Can't help thinking at the end of the first video of the drone landing that everyone is standing around waiting for the pilot to raise the canopy or do something interesting.

    Could be there a while...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh I've been waiting for this moment

    The next time I'm up against some flyboy trying to cock-block me with tales of carrier landings. i'm gonna say ' Big deal, my phone can do that now'

  16. Tom 11

    One step closer to forever,

    Haldeman eat your heart out!

  17. SkippyBing

    Thought for the Day

    Is this surprising, not really, Carrier Auto-land is nothing new, F-4 Phantoms had it in the '60s.

    However, UAVs are currently flavour of the month with the politicians because it reduces the likelihood of casualties to your own side because they're not in the plane, at the same time they require large amounts of bandwidth to transmit all the data back to wherever to allow someone to make a decision.

    The answer to the latter problem is autonomous UAVs which do all the decision making themselves. The question is, will any politician outside of an all out war let that happen? Certainly in the Vietnam war when the US forces had the capability to destroy enemy aircraft before they could be seen this was deemed unacceptable and you had to have visual confirmation of the target's identity before firing. So despite having spent $Billions developing a capability and doctrine to kill the enemy at range the pilots were forced to close to a position where they were at a disadvantage before they could open fire. You saw a similar thing with the Osama operation where Barrack Obama had a real time video feed of the operation, giving him the ultimate long screwdriver to interfere with the mission.

    Ultimately I can't see politicians accepting a drone making decisions about targeting, especially if there's no way to interfere. The problem is if they've already replaced all the piloted aircraft with drones to save money that could leave them defenceless.

  18. briesmith

    Carrier Nonsense

    All of this ignores the decreasing, rapidly decreasing, survivability of aircraft carriers. Within a procurement generation - 10 to 15 years - no carrier will have a combat life expectancy sufficient to justify its exposure to enemy contact/interdiction. What the Japanese did to the Prince of Wales and Repulse in 15 minutes in 1942 the Somalis will be able to do the Nimitz, Reagan etc in 2030 and God help the poor Queen Elizabeth.(I won't mention the name of her sister ship out of sensitivity to people's feelings) which will be sailing with none of the protection the US can give to its carriers.

    The same could be said to apply to fast jets. Their development, build and deployment costs continue to outstretch the costs of killing them to the extent that purposeful affordability has almost disappeared.

    So, how do we apply our technology in a way that is effective, durable and affordable?

    We build or take up from trade, cheap general purpose ships, harden them a bit ("militarise" them) and use helicopters to launch and recover UAVs. As a refinement of launching we could use catapults in a similar way CAM merchantmen launched single use Hurricanes in WW2 leaving just recovery to helicopter capture.

    In this way we can have lots of drones on lots of ships doing lots of different things all very cheaply and in an eminently scalable fashion in the event of conflict.

    (Some fleeting Googling reveals a lot of weapon systems (examples I found include the Bushmaster and Goalkeeper systems) are already containerised and suited to deployment on temporary "warships",)

    This is an affordable war fighting future where brains, imagination and adaptability (I know, not noted British qualities) and not money will rule.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: briesmith Re: Carrier Nonsense

      You need to go read up on Duncan Sandys, he was wrong and so are you. Every time thee is some new development that makes combat aircraft or carriers "obsolete", a countermeasure is found. And if you want British ingenuity, go read up on the British Sea Dart missile system that the Royal Navy used to save the USS Missouri's bacon, after the USN's own countermeasures failed.

    2. SkippyBing

      Re: Carrier Nonsense

      So your proposal is:

      1. Stop building military vessels with integrated defences and networked escort vessels because they're too vulnerable.

      2. Replace them with converted merchant shipping which for some reason isn't, despite not having any defences.

      3. Add some containerised defences, much like the ones on the naval ships you got rid on in 1, in fact the two examples you listed are already on Royal Navy ships.

      Oddly this to my mind puts you back to square one, just without the survivability of a naval vessel in the event of actually being hit.

      There may well be an imminent revolution in naval affairs, this isn't it.

  19. briesmith

    Carrier Nonsense - The Sequel

    I know, it was 1941. Couldn't find an Edit button. Sorry for the carelessness. (It also took a little longer than 15 minutes to polish off the PoW - a totally new ship commissioned only a few years earlier and already the victim of a seeing-to by the Bismarck) - and her much older consort, Repulse but I was trying to make a point about vulnerability.)

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like