154066-aafcccb0-587a-11e3-8974-69a7d7a3124cAs I have discussed for years, drones are going to start looking much more like organic species (if you have not read this article yet than please do now). The Army sees the value of hiding in plain site, this is why they are rapidly acquiring dozens of “Maveric” bird like drones for its Special Operations forces. Maveric has about an hour of flight time per battery battery and can be deployed by a single soldier. Additionally, the small drone is silent to anyone on the ground when it is at altitude. The uses for such a system are both plentiful and obvious.

131201_amazon_drone_apThis technology does represent a double edged sword though. In fact almost all micro-drone technology, that is proliferating throughout the commercial, and even civilian world, have a dark side. These small man-portable drones can be turned from surveillance assets to assassination tools by swapping out the payloads. Even the quad-rotor type hobbyist/commercial drones, like those controversially pimped to millions on 60 Minutes by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently, can carry around half a dozen pounds. Swap out that pair of earphones or cookbook you ordered with a warhead and you have a guided missile capable of some very horrific things. Now mutate that same capability into something that looks just like an ordinary bird and you present a real problem for those who work hard at protecting people and things. The line between missile and drone is blurring and will continue to do so as industry realizes just how useful a small, optionally suicidal drone can be. KAI’s Devil Killer is just one example of these new surveillance drones that possess a secondary capability as a guided weapon.

cram_centurionAs this technology continues to develop you will see new emphasis put on securing the airspace around VIPs and very delicate but important infrastructure on a level greater than anything we have seen before. Whereas the threat from direct fire has been paramount when it comes to personal security, the focus will begin to morph more and more into protection against nontraditional indirect fire, aka small drones with evil payloads. Currently, some C-RAM (Counter Rocket Artillary Motor) systems do have a latent counter-UAV capability. Systems like the ground based Phalanx, called the Centurion, for instance has a sensitive doppler radar and IR/EO search, track, and engage capability. But to be able to really protect one’s “inner sphere” when exposed to the outside world, especially in urban areas where firing self destructing 20mm ammo at 4500 rounds per minute is not good politics, light speed weapons, along with jamming, are the future. laserphalanx_2Currently, a laser version of the Navy’s staple “Phalanx” Close In Weapons System is in advanced testing and is capable of taking down small drones quickly, reliably and with minimal collateral damage. So do not be surprised if this system, or one like it affixed to a trailer, becomes an omni-present fixture around key high-value individuals and infrastructure.

Although the Maveric is innovative and probably a highly effective tool for our soldiers in the field, as time goes by such a well masked capability could, and most likely will, be used against us. It is just another piece of twine in the exciting but also unsettling new world of unmanned weaponry. One where the word “drone” will increasingly be associated with both friend and foe…

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OH-58D_850x-01Amazing. After over a decade of incredibly efficient and deadly warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as successfully and economically training future Army helicopter pilots for decades, the OH-58 Kiowa may be put to rest… For good.

Replacing or upgrading the OH-58D has been a never-ending story for the US Army that dates back to before the RAH-66 Comanche program. Today, a large portion of the OH-58 fleet is supposed to be recapitalized through an upgrade and refurbishment program to keep it viable until a successor is purchased, namely the innovative S-97 Raider. Just over a half decade ago, a couple of years after the cancellation of the RAH-66 Comanche, the OH-58D was going to be replaced by its modern cousin, the ARH-70 Arapaho, a militarized Bell 407. 9a355d02Even this less than innovative replacement program for the OH-58D died due to cost overruns and the massive outflow of cash to pay for two wars that were only getting worse, not better.

Fast forward to today, where sequestration is a stark reality, and it looks like the Army is just going to delete the highly relevant, economical and proven Kiowas as a whole. In the OH-58D’s place, the Army would place the AH-64D/E by assuming all Apaches to the active force and transferring large amounts of UH-60 Blackhawks to the National Guard and the Reserves. Once again, the net loss would be the OH-58, not just in its armed scout role, but also in the training, and logistics roles. The total force of close to 400 Kiowas in inventory would be eliminated in full. 090306-A-2421S-221The Army would fulfill its training role by assuming the inventory of UH-72 Lakota light utility helicopters, an aircraft based on the twin-engine Eurocopter EC-145. The hole made by the Lakota transfer to a training role would presumably be filled by the transferred Blackhawks, at least to a limited extent.

Here we go again folks. The military, in an effort to balance its books, is trying to chop the least complex, yet most affordable weapon system in its air combat inventories. Instead of chopping different platforms inventories, the brass and the Pentagon’s “often wrong, rarely right” bean counters are pulling to divest themselves of an entire weapon system. Instead of trimming their hair they are just buzzing it off, in true Army fashion. I think it’s almost comical that the military always tries to cut its most efficient, easiest to maintain, and effective weapon systems in its bid to “save money.” The A-10 Warthog is the USAF’s analogue in this case, a relatively simple machine that uses commercially available motors and simple flight control systems to get the job done. The Kiowas are even one step more affordable, as they are based on the single engine Bell Jet Ranger, one of the most prolific helicopters even made with a massive logistics train that spans the entire globe.

AH-64D Apache Longbow_3Instead, they will OH-58D will be “replaced,” or should I say “reshuffled” with complex and heavy aircraft that have two motors instead of one. So instead of opting to “shave the force down” the Army is opting for a one size fits all solution, the AH-64 Apache.

The Apache, especially in its current “echo” form, packs an incredibly powerful and deadly punch. But it does this at a high cost, both for acquisition, operation and sustainment. Additionally, for the majority of missions any helicopter gunship has found itself in over the last decade, you do not need 16 Hellfire missiles to get the job done. Especially for over-watch and escort duties. 450x300_q75The OH-58D’s mix of cannons, rockets and Hellfire missiles, paired with high availability and low-cost, has been incredibly effective over the battlefields of the new millennium. Additionally, the Kiowa and its intrepid crews, can do something the AH-64 cannot, once the munitions run out the crew can pick up their M4s and “shoot from the saddle” in a pinch. In other words, the little nimble Kiowas can work very close to those they support on the ground. Also, any helicopter can only be in one place at one time, no matter how capable. Sikorsky-battlehawk-2By divesting so many helicopters capable of dispensing munitions from Army inventories, it will limit the force’s ability to put large quantities of rotory-wing “shooters” in the field. Hellfire missile racks and associated avionics for some of the Army’s Blackhawk fleet would help this situation, but then again you are decreasing the amount of utility and transport helicopters available at any given time by using a portion of the Blackhawks in this role. Maybe the Army should ask itself- Do you really need 800 Apaches? What about cutting some Apache that are not slated to be upgraded to “Echo” standard, and retire half of the Kiowa Warrior fleet? Why does it have to be all or nothing when it comes to the Kiowa fleet?

id_th67_creek_02_700With this mega-reshuffle we will also see the US Army train new pilots on a twin-engined cavernous Eurocopter. Hardly the ideal platform for such a rudimentary role. One that will cost more down the line in operational costs than the diminutive TH-67s currently in service. Conversely, one would assume that the utility roles that were once the UH-72’s reason for existence will be picked up by UH-60s transferred from the active force. So once again, you have a much larger, more thirsty, more complex machine accomplishing the role that is traditionally filled by a less expensive and small asset. The whole reason $22M Blackhawks were not originally fielded for this mission is that it only requires a $6M Lakota. So by back-filling some of the holes left by transferring the new UH-72s to the training mission with Blackhawks, you essentially do the opposite of saving money, you spend much more of it over time for missions that have no requirement for greater investment.

Operation Iraqi FreedomIn the end, this “meat cleaver” forms of “cutting” defense budgets ends in a more costly yet smaller force, one that is less flexible and wrought with needless excess capabilities and lower air-frame density. As these assets age, the next metaphorical shoe to drop will be the need to once again step back to less expensive airframes with less capability in an attempt to save money and “rationalize” the force. You do not need a Blackhawk for basic stateside logistics and you do not need an AH-64E Apache for basic helicopter scouting roles, and you sure as hell do not need an EC-145 for basic pilot training. So instead of shrinking each communities end strength based on what the Army actually needs, they want to pick one community out for disbandment, and by doing so they are going to make every other mission the Army rotary wing fleet currently performs either largely more expensive, or at best, the same cost. 1441199-mainGreat way to save money guys! And what does this mean for the S-92 Raider that the Army is so hot to buy, or the Joint Multi-Role Helicopter program (the F-35 of the whirly-bird world) that is supposed to end in a “winner” that will supply an even more complex and expensive airframe than the Blackhawks in service? If we cannot afford to upgrade and fly a few hundred modified Bell Jet Rangers, I highly doubt we are going to be able to afford a sea of tilt-rotors to replace the Blackhawk, yet alone a pusher coaxial rotor equipped speed demon armed reconnaissance helicopter to provide a mission set that we are about to terminate as a whole. This whole type of disconnect between the DoD’s wants and the current state of the force that already paid for is just tiresome and childish at this point.

bell-v-280-valor-tiltrotor-5Commonality, one-size-fits-all, highly complex fleets of aircraft are not the way to balance our budget or give the war fighter the best tools to survive and win above enemy territory. The DoD’s inability to admit this truth (see the F-35 and the LCS for starters) will end up costing Americans more money (and thus sovereignty) down the road, not to mention that it will also cost lives should an unforeseen conflict arise, and they always do…

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Last night on 60 Minutes I watched Jeff Bezos, the creator or Amazon, “unveil” their new concept for drone delivery. Yes you heard right, DRONE DELIVERY. He says it could be ready for prime time in a few years. Are you kidding me? Hey 60 Minutes, maybe look into the concepts you are allowing your darling execs to pitch on your airtime? After Lara Logan’s disastrous Benghazi report you think they would be watching this crap a little more closely. Delivering individual sub-6lb packages via quad rotor remote control helicopters is so stupid at this point in time that it’s just funny. I am not going to get into all the ways this idea is not feasible in the near, or even foreseeable future. It would be a waste of your time to read like this was for me to watch.

It is fine if this is a project that is just super blue sky, “let’s blow some money and see where this goes” type of bleeding edge development thing, or even for use in a limited scale within their campuses like the Google self driving car, but to pith this as the next great thing to come is just silly and a little sad to be honest with you. What it sounds like is marketing meeting run amok: “hey what is super cool and cutting edge right now that we can appear to be at the forefront of?” “Um drones are a pretty big deal in the “nerdosphere” right now sir.” “Ok, let’s do that!”

If you expect to get a pair of headphones you ordered from Amazon via a quad rotor toy anytime soon then I also have some great ocean front property to sell you Afghanistan and a nice flying car to go with it!

The uniformed in the world of unmanned aircraft would say I am hater for swatting down Bezos’s drone dream, but I think this site has a pretty far and firm view of where this technology is going, some would even wrongly deem it optimistic. One thing is for certain, drones are definitely in fashion now with the publics consciousness, and they are ripe for “whiz-bang” marketing ploys to a still highly uniformed public.

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Fixed wing gunships like the AC-130, AC-47 and AC-119 may look like lumbering brutes during the day, but once the sun goes does down they enter their ideal predatory environment and their presence turns from bristling beasts of burden to light and firework spewing angels of death…

Seeing that the public knows the AC-130 as the flying Dirty Hairy, a insomniac gunslinger of sorts, it is sad to hear that the upcoming AC-130J variant will only sport a single ATK 30mm auto-cannon. The rest of the AC-130J’s destructive tendencies will be satisfied by Hellfire Missiles, Small Diameter Bombs, and Griffin missiles. Seeing as the cheapest of these guided munitions is $50k a shot, yes this is like dropping a new E-Class Mercedes every time the trigger is pulled, you can imagine how much a single highly active sortie would cost. Additionally, the AC-130’s smaller caliber cannons, a handful of H models only carry the 40mm and 105mm now, are incredible area “sanitizers” and suppressive fire tools. Although the larger 30mm cannon is very capable, I doubt the sheer volume of fire is competitive with the 20mm or 30mm gatling gun. Then you combine that with the 40mm cannon and you can suppress one area while engaging pinpoint targets simultaneously in another area. If you need a building taken down, then you can use the 105mm. Although the AC-130 is long overdue for guided munitions, especially after the great success of the Marine’s KC-130J Harvest Hawk kit, I am surprised that they will not be fielded in addition to the Howitzer and the gatling gun, but instead of them…

majorminor4a68ac4e0c427AC-47_tracers_over_Saigon_1968_(colour)Spooky-mainDual_Tracerscone_3larry-burrows-crew-of-us-ac-47-plane-firing-7-62-mm-ge-miniguns-during-night-mission-in-vietnam (1)051128-F-1234P-048AC-130Small-thumb-450x338

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planeHere is an ATC audio recording of the Boeing Dreamlifter landing at the wrong airport while on a parts run from McConnell AFB to Boeing’s Wichita plant. Sounds like there were some very low information pilots flying that massive and highly modified Boeing 747-400 Large Cargo Freighter, otherwise known as the freakishly plump “Dreamlifter.” Boeing’s Dreamlifter was built to haul major parts of the 787 around the globe and back to major assembly points for the Dreamliner. This is fantastic audio. I give great credit to everyone for remaining so calm, but man these pilots, with all their expensive navigational gear, had to ask for every piece of info from ATC. Maybe they were doing it to cover their backs, but I doubt such acting will work. This could have been a very, very deadly affair. If there was a collision with another aircraft there would be literally hundreds of tons of metal and steel raining down over Wichita….

Now the big question is how will it get out of that airfield? Jabrara has runway just over a mile in length. If this Dreamlifter has some heavy cargo onboard I cannot see it safely flying out of there even with almost no fuel onboard. Boeing will probably have to unload the parts before the jet can safely depart for a very short trip to Boeing’s Wichita plant. Then there is the question of potential damage the heavy Boeing could have made on arrival or on departure, as this airport was never designed for such heavy aircraft operations. Check out the audio of the Dreamlifter landing at Jabrara airport in Kansas here:

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P1040804The Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, otherwise known as ATAC, has made another large leap in the commercial adversary support marketplace with the addition of the captive training AIM-9M Sidewinder to their fleet’s quiver.

In the past, ATAC pilots would only be able to attempt a 180′ turn after the merge when training against fleet aircraft. Only if they found themselves in the very heart of an infra-red missile shot envelope could they “call” a shot/kill. Such limitations, along with the fact that they are flying aircraft designed in the 1950s, left the already highly disadvantaged Kfir pilot in a fairly futile battle, especially against aircraft sporting fly by wire controls, high thrust to weight ratios, and even worse, helmet mounted cueing systems and high-off bore-sight capable AIM-9Xs. Basically, ATAC Kfirs, although packing a lot of electronic warfare capability around at very high speed, were relegated to mimicking a 1960’s level of within visual range air to air engagement technology. Now that they are cleared to carry a captive training AIM-9M they can represent a much more prevalent and robust threat, one that is capable of all aspect IR missile engagements, including “face shots,” which occur before or at the merge.

ExCopeIndia-27sld8The USAF, and other US air arms, have learned the hard way that a small 40 year old MiG-21, packing a high-end self-escort jamming pod and capable all-aspect infra-red guided missiles, can be just as deadly as a SU-30MKI during a chaotic air to air engagement. During exercises like “COPE INDIA” the hard to spot and electron spewing MiG-21s could sneak right up during the fog of battle and take out a mighty F-15C Eagle. Tactics and training have thus changed to prepare pilots for such asymmetric air to air threats.

Designed by western standards and packing significantly more range (Kfirs can fly for almost three hours with external tanks!) compared to modified MiG-21s, the advanced jammer and all aspect infra-red missile toting, mach 1+ ATAC Kfir, may only be seen by a fleet aircrew once it’s too late, thus punishing the opposing aircrew’s mistake by virtually killing them. Having your $65M Super Hornet swatted out of the sky by a rudimentary delta wing antique may be a hard pill for a young fighter pilot to swallow, but these are exactly the tough lessons that need to learned in training, not in combat. P1000764As such, ATAC will be delivering a very real and relevant threat simulation for our fleet Naval Aviators and Naval Flight Officers to counter should the occasion arise, and one day it probably will.

The DoD should get wise and start ordering more private adversary support flight hours and capabilities. It saves the US tax payer money and only makes our front line air crews and radar operators more honed for battle. Additionally, the DoD would be nuts to send up a pair of F-35s for basic intercept training when the same job could be done by an ATAC Hunter or Kfir at a tiny fraction of the cost. As the DoD’s fifth generation dream (or fiscal nightmare?) comes to fruition it will prove economically impossible to burn cherished 5th generation airframe hours, at double the cost to operate than the aircraft they replace, just to provide radar targets for another guy in another F-35. Plus, when you give someone a total disadvantage, such as pitting a F-35 vs an antique Israeli knockoff of a Mirage III/V fighter, creativity can come into play as to how to use “asymmetric” tactics to give the F-35s a run for their money. In other words, it allows for the outgunned adversary to truly think and fight like a potential enemy. The addition of the AIM-9M to ATAC’s playbook will help them do just that.

Hopefully this investment in commercial adversary support providers capabilities will continue, and next we may see ATAC’s impeccably maintained Kfirs and Hunters sporting an infra-red search and track (IRST) sensor and maybe a radar set sometime in the not so distant future…

ATAC’s website:







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Sea Control and airborne anti-surface/submarine warfare and surveillance is becoming a very hot mission set for air arms from around the world to invest into. This is especially true as “globalization” and the world’s disparate economies become more intertwined. Design it here, build it there, sell it here, is becoming “business as normal” when it comes to international commerce, and ease of shipping is the potential “weak” link in this scheme.  Additionally, the rise of piracy, gulf state wealth, China’s rise and the resulting strategic “pivot towards the Pacific” have also bolstered the need for cutting edge, yet scalable, sea control capabilities. Luckily, the defense and aerospace industry have more options than ever to tailor fit an air arms needs and budgets to an airframe and subsystem maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) concept.

yourfile12Enter five programs of interest that I would like to discuss. First is Boeing’s announcement at the Dubai Air Show that they will downsize the P-8 Poseidon’s mission suite into a Challenger 605 business jet, they call it the Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA). Sure, this system will be stripped down compared to the heavy and Omni-mission P-8, but all the key features will still be present. The test bird will sport the Selex ES Seaspray 7300 maritime surveillance radar and the FLIR Systems Star Safire 380 EO/IR sensor turret along with the P-8s highly capable mission computer. Additional capabilities will undoubtedly come down the line as add-on options, such as some ESM/ELINT and data relay capabilities. Still, just out of the box the test aircraft will be a highly capable multi-mission aircraft, all packed into a proven, reliable, serviceable, and cost-effective airframe.

The Boeing modified Challenger will have a range of around 2600 miles and about 8.5 or so hours of endurance. I am interested to find out if the modified CL605 will get hard points as the program progresses. Even though the ground clearance may be an issue for missiles like the Harpoon and others, it should not be a problem for Griffin/Brimstone/Hellfire sized missiles. Additionally, micro guided munitions are being tested and will soon be fielded on drones and eventually manned platforms (hopefully). Although this would not give the Boring CL605 hardcore anti-ship capability, it would give the jet a serious littoral warfare/anti-piracy/anti-fast boat capability or even close air support over land potential.

The US Navy should really evaluate this aircraft. What percentage of missions really require a P-8? For those that do not I would suggest procuring something with P-8 commonality and much lower operating and acquisition costs. Boeing’s CL605 sea control platform seems like a very good companion to the its bigger brother. Then again there are dozens of S-3 Vikings baking in the desert with plenty of life left them. An aircraft that really could fill so many roles with new “off the shelf” avionics and weapons systems. In a world where speed means less and endurance, payload and space for avionics means more, the poor S-3 had its wings clipped right before sensor and munitions technology could have made it one of the most relevant aircraft in the DoD’s inventory, either manned or unmanned form (read this article).

Aes-3b_s-3pparently, South Korea may have picked up on the S-3’s latent potential as rumors have been brewing that they may be interested in acquiring, refurbishing, and putting to work, some of the orphaned S-3s. There is even talk about potentially procuring a fixed wing carrier able to operate aircraft like the S-3 from, although, especially in the short-term, I find this less believable than just upgrading and putting the S-3 to work from land bases around the Peninsula. The Viking is uniquely suited for the mission of patrolling the waters surrounding South Korea when it comes to range and the capabilities needed to counter aggressors from the North. Additionally, they can launch sonobuoys and hunt subs, which is a great importance considering the North retains a small but relevant fleet of quiet diesels submarines and midget submarines. The aircraft can also engage targets in the littoral regions, a key capability considering the tensions along the coastal borders with the North and the North’s known tactic of deploying masses of special forces deep behind the South’s lines via boats and submarines should the war become hot between the two nations. Finally, a revamped Viking, especially with off the shelf modern avionics, could have fantastic secondary surveillance capabilities. In many ways, due to the miniaturization of electronics and digitized sub-systems, an upgraded S-3, focused on South Korea’s unique mission needs, could both posses a potent anti-surface warfare and submarine capability but also much of the capabilities lost when the ES-3 Shadow was prematurely retired out of totally idiocy quite some time ago. A near sighted move by the USN that is now supposed “pivot toward the Pacific.” Regardless, South Korea could build some electronic intelligence and network relay capability into an updated Viking, thus turning what was already a versatile aircraft into a true flying “Swiss Army Knife.”

p1hh-circle1Meanwhile, the folks over at Piaggio are doing some pretty cool stuff with their super efficient and sleek P.180 Avanti business turboprop. After years of showing models of what would be eventually named the P.1HH “Hammerhead” unmanned mid altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV, it has been announced that the P.1HH has taken its first flight. This aircraft offers similar capabilities as Boeing CL605 but without humans onboard, with greater range, and turboprop efficiency. The P.180 is a uniquely well suited platform for this unmanned mission, possessing the capability of flying over a wide envelope of profiles, while utilizing its already efficient design and voluminous interior for fuel and sensors. In some ways this aircraft may be a little ahead of its time as many operators who may buy it still have little experience with unmanned aircraft operations, and especially heavy unmanned aircraft operations. Although its capabilities seem fantastic, the risk in procuring an unmanned system of this complexity for such an important role may seem to great to many customers at this time. Nonetheless, others nations, like those in the Pacific region, may have to take the leap of unmanned faith to get the range, efficiency and affordability out of a single easily serviceable platform. When your very security may depend on constantly surveying a LOT of water, unmanned just makes more dollars and sense. I would be interested to see how a Pilatus PC-12 based unmanned maritime patrol aircraft conversion would stack up to this Hammerhead concept. It seems that even greater economy could be realized with only a relatively small loss of capability…

SC-130J2On the heavier side of sea control, the promising SC-130J Sea Hercules concept (more about this concept here) may have its first buyer, Singapore. The SC-130J is truly an intriguing concept. A flying Littoral Combat Ship of sorts, without the controversy of course, the SC-130 Sea Hercules would be able to do many missions in a reconfigurable way. One day it can go out on a search and rescue mission, the next it can chase quiet diesel subs out in the open ocean, the next day it can drop special operations commandos onto an island, a day later it act as an airborne command post. With the addition of the already proven “Harvest Hawk” capability, the SC-130J can sport Hellfire and Griffon air to ground missiles, for battle in the muddy waters, or it can bristle with Harpoon or SLAM-ER missiles, capable of attacking coastlines and ships at sea at standoff distances. The Sea Hercules is literally one stop “plug and play” shopping for a country’s sea control and maritime surveillance and attack needs and the concept is really long overdue. Still, all this capability comes at a price, not just to purchase but to operate. C-130Js are large, heavy and complex machines that do not come cheap, which takes them off many nation’s military hardware shopping lists. None-the-less, their flexibility, and potential growth rivals the P-8, although the Navy already has dedicated C-130 transport capability and the special forces also have their own highly tricked out Hercules aircraft, which makes it irrelevant for the US, but totally relevant to other nations who do not have such luxuries.


Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout test preparations at Naval BasFinally, we have the news that earlier this month, Northrop Grumman’s supersized “Firescout,” the MQ-8C, based on the venerable Bell Jet Ranger light turbine chopper, has taken its first flight. This aircraft is quite the upgrade over its little brother, the MQ-8B, with over 12 hours of endurance and a 2500lb payload. The central design inspiration surrounding the Firescout is that it is meant to be deployed on ships at sea, which gives the drone’s host surface combatant a whole new capability: unmanned long endurance, low altitude, sea control, surveillance, attack and possibly logistics. In fact, in so many ways, rotary wing unmanned anti-surface warfare aircraft are the most exciting development in the “salty” area of air combat. Being able to launch an unmanned aircraft off a ship with basic helicopter handling facilities and sending it to go scan large swathes of sea around its mother ship, while also being able to investigate up close and personal contacts of interest, is really fantastic and will eventually add a new dimension of capability to even rudimentary surface combatants.

AIR_UAV_MQ-8B_Naval_Ops_Scenario_lgThese aircraft will be able to do much more than just sea control. Attack is already in the Firescout’s brochure. This is a capability ideally suited for the littoral regions, where fast boat attacks and other asymmetric threats are a real looming possibility. As laser guided rockets and micro-guided munitions become widely deployed, the Firescout will pack a large amount of firepower in a small package. This attack capability will also come into play when supporting special forces. Being able to observe and/or act as a communication relay during a special forces operation is fantastic, but being able to also deliver extremely precise fire support on demand, without putting an aircrew at risk, is just fantastic. Additionally, other capabilities are being brought to fruition for unmanned choppers, including resupply. Lockheed’s unmanned Kmax demonstrator has been hauling crap in Afghanistan and pushing its own envelope for months now to great success. Being able to use Firescout aircraft, especially the larger Jet Ranger bases MQ-8C, for resupply of special forces, once gain without putting an aircrew at risk, would be a godsend. Eventually, even extraction of troops under emergency conditions may become part of the aircraft’s unique mission set.

Theoretically, the Firescout could carry a Scan Eagle size drone far over the horizon, drop it into action, and relay its information back to its controllers. In effect this would mean you have two drones forward deployed that could scan a much larger area in multiple directions, as a team, and both are fully recoverable and reusable. In the end the MQ-8C is just a platform to haul sensors, weapons, and whatever else from one very small point to another very small point, so the capabilities that could be brought to this weapon system are really up to the manufacturer’s and the customer’s imagination and pocketbook.

P-8A arrival to Naval Air Station Patuxent RiverRegardless of the platform, the maritime patrol aircraft marketplace is in the process of ballooning. The odd thing about it is that very few of the platforms offered are just maritime patrol aircraft, they are in fact multi-role sensor and even weapons delivery platforms that are optimized for range and persistence, both key elements of the battlefield today, and especially tomorrow. It would be wise for vendors who are proposing aircraft in this marketplace to really show the plethora of missions and  possible upgrades each aircraft can sport, while at the same time underling how much UAV like capabilities manned platforms offer, and how much manned like capabilities unmanned platforms offer, as the difference in choice is starting to blur. Beyond what platform is best for what mission or nation, any platform is better than none at this point, as the world is increasingly turning it strategic gaze away from the sandy deserts of the middle east, towards the vast expanses of the worlds oceans, and especially those in the Eastern Hemisphere. Both are desolate and inhospitable environments, but they are as different as it gets when it comes to the realities of air combat and the collection of information via the air.

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It is amazing how the frequency of the detonations corresponds with unique geo-political occurrences in modern world history. It is also freaky as hell that mankind has lit off so many of these super-weapons over the last half century and change…

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Lockheed’s new low observable LRASM (Long Range Anti Ship Missile) is a cousin of JASSM will replace the AGM-84 Harpoon series as the Navy’s go-to anti-ship missile system. This video is basically all you get to know about LRASM, but in it you will see its most prominent feature is that it will “intelligently” sense and avoid hostile threats via an onboard passive radio frequency receiver, data link and advanced software programming. Basically, this thing will have enough AI onboard to survive via the dissemination of high-quality (see geolocation) electronic service measure/radar warning receiver data. This is for an expendable missile I remind you, so just imagine what we have when it comes to reusable unmanned platforms. Let’s just call this a teaser for my “Realities Of Drone Development” piece that will run soon after my “Netcentric Warfare 2.0” expose.

For more on the future of unmanned systems and cruise missiles read this popular post:

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Predators deliver data, firepower in Iraq“Six Myths About Drone Warfare You Probably Believe” is the best first person account of life as a “man in the loop” drone operator I have ever read. Additionally, it totally jives with the candid discussions I have had with those who live and work inside these electronics packed containers day in and day out, virtually fighting a war thousands of miles away.  Although I doubt any of this information will be new to my readers, the article is well worth reading because it really brings the whole reality of this type of “combat” down to the individual human level. Funny at times and startling at others, I absolutely love this story and you should too.

A huge thanks to “Mark,” an aviationintel reader, who brought this gem to my attention. Keep sending me stories guys!

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It is widely assumed that this unique “joined wing” unmanned air system, or a follow-on scaled up version of it, will attempt to fulfill a similar mission set as the American Q-4 Global Hawk series of airframes and the craft has only been seen in what appears to be mockup form, until now. I would imagine that this core airframe design will be scaled larger over time, similar to the latest Global Hawk/Trident variations, so what you see here may be analogous to the developmental RQ-4As that are now serving NASA for test duties. Key roles of a HALE (High-Altitude-Long-Endurance) UAV like this will be for battlefield surveillance, and network relaying. In fact, a daisy chain of these aircraft could provide line of sight connectivity back to the mainland without satellite communications. Yet the most pressing need for China’s building military deterrence and “anti-access” capability will for this aricraft to extend far off China’s shores to gain targeting quality location data on enemy flotillas and sending that information back to the mainland to be distributed to China’s DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile squadrons. More can be read here about China’s unique need for high-quality long range maritime targeting capabilities:

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Bell’s V-280 Valor mockup is ready for the “petting zoo.” Good luck against Sikorsky’s rear pusher & coaxial rotor concept guys. I think Congress has had enough of the tiltrotor after literally half a century of development. Also, it must be worth noting that this aircraft has a larger footprint than the Blackhawk (primarily) it intends to replace. Sometimes landing zones can be very tight, especially when their location is dictated by the enemy. The Blackhawk, although dated, is a pretty tight platform, which on numerous occasions was an absolute necessity when it came to saving lives and/or getting the mission done. If the Army wanted a tilt rotor very badly why wouldn’t they just buy the one currently in production? Conversely, if this machine offers a more flexible set of mission capabilities, and at a lower cost than its predecessor, maybe the Marines should halt their Osprey splurge and check out the new model that may be hitting showroom floors in the not so distant future. Personally, I think the tiltrotor’s time has come and gone. It is a great niche capability to have in smaller numbers, but building a whole combat doctrine around them just seems like a massive waste of resources. I get it, sometimes you need speed and range, but more than not you don’t need that great of speed or that much range, so why spend three times more on an all 100% solution when that extra 10% or 20% of capability could be available to you in adequate numbers while the rest of the missions can be accomplished by a simple S-70 Knighthawk? Once again, capability, rationality and the reality of a shrinking defense budget will get these one-size-fits-all gold plated solutions in check as commanders and the civilian leadership in the Pentagon are going to have to start answering for rapidly dwindling end-strength while at the same time procuring a ridiculously small and incredibly expensive all-silver bullet force. A little more on this topic can be found here, including another one of Bell’s promotional videos which was pretty much so dumb it was embarrassing:

Cessna Scorpion light air support and surveillance jet is already doing engine runs! Hey guys how about you get 150 of these things to Afghanistan like 6 years ago! More on the DoD’s huge  mismanagement of tactical aircraft resources during the occupation of Afghanistan, and that country’s dire need for organic close air support and surveillance assets, can be found in this thread of posts:

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