A world (at sea ) of difference

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as in many engineering projects the Navy’s UCAV X-47B flight testing and carrier qual seems to have suddenly jumped from baby steps to hyper speed.

Navy officers are very clear on a distinction between the Navy and the Air Force, which insists on talking about remotely piloted aircraft: Navy “unmanned air systems” have operators, not pilots. Of course, the Navy hasn’t been forced to divert a large number of qualified pilots into UAVs, as the USAF has been (Predators and Reapers are the USAF’s second-largest pilot force after the F-16), and will not have to do so for a long time. But the fact remains that flying a UAV with a stick and rudder or any semblance thereof is (to quote an Airbus guy’s comment on the Boeing 777’s back-driven yoke) like putting a steering wheel on a horse. “Pilot” is a bit of a misnomer.
Speaking of pilots, the Navy’s attitude towards adopting the X-47B’s automatic landing technology for manned operations is quite positive. The potential benefits — less wear and tear on airframes and less training time for the air group, along with improved safety — are substantial.

Read more at: http://www.aviationweek.com/Blogs
Wired has a different set of thoughts and more questions here. Wired sometimes seems to confuse the world of war with the world of tech and the world in general with the blue coasts of the US but they do a good job of tracking the tech and monitoring for hubris.

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US Air Force = ‘hollow force’ ?

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This article on the USAirForce in The American Interest is part of a series, incomplete as of this writing, on the US Armed Forces, and the road forward in this period of draw back and draw down. The ones on the Army and Marines are worthy and insightful but don’t get to the nitty gritty level required for me at least. While this AF article could be argued to be in the same vein I think it’s stronger and that may be because the technology and mission of the AF are very tightly interwoven making it simpler to see the overall threat.

The argument is that the AF has been all but static in the past 20+ years since Desert Storm. That a combination of victors-hubris along with techno-hubris and perhaps political ineptness have left us with a hollow force at the sharp end. The AF is arguably all over its technological mission in support of communication, reconnaissance, threat detection, navigation, etc, and has been shown to be king of battle in low intensity conflict (a turnaround of epic proportions from Vietnam.) But this camouflages the fact that if we had to do Desert Storm against a foe withe the modern equivalent of Saddam’s air defenses we would suffer vastly higher casualty rates, to the point of perhaps not being able to dominate the air space to anything like the same degree, perhaps pushing us back to an earlier era’s loss ratio’s.

There is a call to back the F35 and the NGB (next gen bomber) which I agree with since all other platforms are wearing and aging out (aging out happens as old tech ( particularly electronic and electromechanical) gets impossibly expensive to support because the devices and materials used are obsolete and no longer available sometimes even illegal due to toxicity or country of origin.)

I’m not bought in on the hollowness, yet. Yes the AF / DoD bolloxed the F35 and its now causing the above wear/age issue but does it matter? The first wave B2, B1 and cruise and strike missiles from B52’s etc would take down any known threat’s air defenses long enough for the channel to be cauterized by strike aircraft and special forces…which is what happened in DS. Yes some might have ability to hang tough with fighters, for a few hours, yes some might have backup lines and reserves, but having them and using them are two very different propositions once the AF is in their backfield.

What about a peer / near peer you ask? What peer / near peer I ask? Not NorK NorK, not Iran, not Russia or China either…a limited war against either is essentially the scenario above. Anything more in those two cases and sheer area would provide a huge force multiplier on their side. Thats ignoring the fact that both are serious nuclear powers and serious world diplomatic players who we are Never Going to War With directly until nuclear weapons are off the table…though of course you have to game the doomsday scenarios…but in those cases the war can never expected to be winnable or lovable in a conventional way.

Air Force Mini Shuttle the future Swiss army knife of space

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In a testing procedure, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle taxis on the flightline in June 2009 at Vandenberg AFB, Calif

The Air Forces X37B autonomous mini shuttle has proven a great success. The first prototype orbiting for 9 months and then returning safely. The second unit is currently at 10+ months. Also the craft have shown that they are very maneuverable in orbit and very hard to keep track of from the ground even by pretty sophisticated observers. Now The AF is talking about an X37C that could carry six passengers. But it would still be autonomous, i.e. the passengers are passengers not pilots. To me that is probably a rather weak cover/secondary use. Most of the craft would spend most of their lives with no passengers, doing an array of important tasks. I think the AF like s the idea of a more ‘drone’ like operating profile, multi use(refuel, recovery, small launch, medium duration observation, etc) able to upgrade, lower orbit so less massive ‘optics’ for any class of objective. This would be the true space fighter, not a combat vehicle, but a platform that can do almost anything almost anywhere (in orbit) on very short notice without giving away the mission just by its shape/launch orbit.

Of course they need to lose the expensive aeroshell, it was necessary I assume to keep from having to do something even more expensive with the Boosters control laws, but it sure looks expensive, and for the six person version would get pretty bulky. Of course a 6 person crew though the same as the shuttle does not mean a shuttle scale vehicle, Shuttle was a mixed cargo freight hauler most of its size was for cargo I don’t the X37C will be much more than 2x maybe 3x the size of the diminutive 29ft X37B.

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The US Air Force X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle during encapsulation within the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 5-meter fairing Feb. 8, 2011, at Astrotech in Titusville, Fla. The fairing protects and carries the OTV into space.