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.
Wired and others have been nattering about the Chinese carrier, it’s nascent flight wing, how crappy the hardware is, how hard the job is, etc, etc. working to defuse the China threat they think is being blown up by the Pentagon and congressional hawks.
Look at the two pictures above, the time from first flight to rational threat back ‘in the day’ was a few years, the big gun guys were laughing the whole time. That Fighter struggling off the Lianoning is a threat today if need be, and you do not have to impress an admiral to be able to sink his fleet. No it’s no realistic threat today but don’t make the mistake of equating little with none, the US capability with the capability required to be a threat, or today with forever. The US CVN capability is essentially static or downtrend, China is on the edge of asymptotic rise, with a century and millions of man years of prior experience across the world to pull up on. As other articles in have discussed, what really is a CV in the 21st century? So how long could it be till a Chinese CV threat is more than a wild card? Not long is my estimate.
This StratPage article on the LCSs is very good, but has a negative tone that is disappointing. As the article notes with a bit of hyperbole the LCS is a pretty radical break with the past, LCS 2, Independence being by far the more radical and perhaps deserving of the hyperbole. Where has our patience gone, whenever something radically new is tried there are problems and with LCS even with LCS 2 the problems seem relatively minor in the big picture. Also the fact that LCS went from concept to hulls in the water in less than a decade is tribute to sensible expectation setting on the part of the Admiral(s) who have pushed this family forward. Though tying hull and weapon system together may make sense for the battleships (carriers and cruisers of our age) it makes small craft too expensive and obsolescent before launch.
LCS 2 Independence The Radical Sister
The trimaran LCS 2 is essentially all aluminum built by Austral (relocated Australian fast ferry company.) She was launched later and has had a lot more or at least more serious issues than her fraternal sister LCS 1. Most pictures of Independence are either slow speed or docked, far fewer deployment pictures than of LCS 1. This should have been expected (and was by most) when you have this radical a departure its bound to collect a lot of baggage. But the ship has a huge flight deck and is highly stable in rough weather, as well as being fast. In the end its possible the Independence will be the more successful sister, though it’s just as likely that both will be considered successful but better at certain missions than the other.
By the way the concept of a trimaran warship was originally raised by the Royal Navy and as above the builder is an Australian company experienced in building catamaran ferries (which have had their own issues.) Who says the US doesn’t take good ideas from abroad?
Just as a matter of interest I had the honor of getting a tour of the LCS3 the Freedoms sister ship Fort Worth at her builder Marintte Marine. The ship has huge empty spaces but the ‘fixed’ facilities are pretty tight . The bridges of these ships remind one more of something out of a Star Trek movie than a WWII flick.
And while the hull is the size of a WWII destroyer they are (when geared up for the mission) vastly more lethal the crew size is more in line with a WWII PT boat than the Tin Cans of yore.
The idea behind LCS is for a capable craft that is available in the numbers needed for dealing with busy coastal waters. These are the modern equivalent of the Gunboats of the nineteenth century. They are not the modern cruiser (called destroyers) battleships (called cruisers) or battleliners (carriers.) These ships are the corvettes, the torpedo boat destroyer, the frigate, of today and with their vast flexibility and high power they will most likely find uses far beyond those envisaged today.