Naval Air: Combat Carrier UAVs Delayed

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June 22, 2006: The U.S. Navy has had to back off on its plans to have a robotic carrier aircraft flying off its carriers in the next five years or so. There just isn't enough money. But the navy is getting robotic combat aircraft anyway, they just won't be operating off carriers.

Currently, the navy is locked in to replacing it's Cold War era carrier aircraft with new F-18Fs and F-35s. Beyond that, it sees mainly unmanned combat aircraft. That's because after it has paid for the F-18Fs and F-35s, it will have money to develop and buy the UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles.) Meanwhile, the navy is replacing its 1960s era P-3 maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Since the end of the Cold War, and the demise of the enormous Russian submarine fleet, the P-3 has not been needed nearly as much. In the last fifteen years, the P-3 fleet has been reduced from over 400, to about 148. These will be replaced by about a hundred new P-8s (actually a militarized B-737), and a few dozen large UAVs (BAMS, or "broad area maritime surveillance"). But the navy patrol BAMS UAVs will carry weapons, just like the P-3 and P-8 do. Meanwhile, the navy still has prototype UCAVs it developed with the air force (before the joint project ran out of money), and can afford to take their time perfecting the flight control software UCAVs will need for landing on carriers at night, especially in rough weather. The navy is buying two Global Hawk UAVs as a testbed for their BAMS (which may end up being a version of the Global Hawk).

 


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