Tags: Drones, UAVs, UUVs
In a piece in mid-December, the web siteÂ NavalDrones detailedÂ the U.S. Navyâ€™s solicitation for an unmmanedÂ aerial vehicle (UAV) that incorporates Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) sensors. As the article notes, this capability is useful for finding submarines as it â€śdetects changes in the earthâ€™s magnetic field caused by a large metal object,â€ť such as yonÂ u-boat. What is perhaps most interesting about the solicitation is that it calls for the UAVsÂ to beÂ expendable and launched from a P-8A Poseidon aircraft.
The concept of aerial motherhipsÂ is by no means new â€“ one only need look back to the glory days of zeppelinsÂ with biplane detachments, or to the helicarrier in the recent movieÂ The AvengersÂ to get a sense of the breadth of idea. And the solicitation for the Poseidon doesnâ€™t mark the first go at aircraft-launched UAVs:
In 2009, an expendable sonobuoyÂ tube-launched UAV calledÂ CoyoteÂ was testedÂ out a NOAAâ€™s WP-3D Orion under an Office of Naval Research. A less successful small business grant was awarded to Lite Machines to modify itsÂ VoyeurÂ UAVÂ for sonochute launch.
Despite this, more attention is focused onÂ surfaceÂ and subsurface vessels playing the roles of mothershipsÂ than aerial drone motherships. DARPA caused a stir earlier in 2013 by announcing the start of a UUV mothership program, named in a not-at-all-sinister fashion â€śHydra,â€ťÂ that would be capable of launching embarked UAVsÂ and UUVs, while Coastal Riverine Group-1 received the mannedÂ Coastal Command BoatÂ UUV-launching mothership. Elsewhere, debate and intellectual energy is starting to explore theÂ interplay of manned, unmanned, and autonomous aircraftÂ and the tactical possibilities their combinations can provide.
Less attention has been paidÂ to aerial motherships as the constant and exploring the pros and cons of using any of the following as variables:
1. The mission sets of the UAVs and how they would interact with other platforms.
2. Launching non-expendable UAVs.
3. Launching USVsÂ or UUVs.
4. Motherships that are purpose-built (as opposed to ad-hoc such as the Poseidon).
5. Motherships that are themselves unmanned or autonomous.
6. Lighter-than-air (e.g. blimp) craft vs propeller or jet craft.
In many of these combinations the pros will be outweighedÂ by the cons, but itâ€™s possible there are some winning, creative combos worth discovering. An upcoming issueÂ week at CIMSECÂ will be dedicated to naval drone concepts and tactics. In the latter I hope to explore these variables in more detail. As Iâ€™ve likely missed some salient points I look forward to incorporating your feedback.
This article appeared in its original form and was cross-posted by permission from CIMSEC’s NextWar blog.Â