An RQ-8A Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing tactical
unmanned aerial vehicle system prepares to land aboard the
amphibious transport dock ship USS Nashville in January
2006. Fire Scout is being developed in concert with the Army,
and is envisioned to operate from the Littoral Combat Ship.
The Navy’s search for a long-endurance and persistent ISR-producing UAV started in March 2006 with the
Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD) — an
initiative directed by the secretary of the Navy to
demonstrate the capability.
The Navy bought two Global Hawks from the Air
Force’s production line and modified the radar sensor
software to include an inverse synthetic aperture radar
mode to provide limited maritime capability, said Doss.
The lessons learned from GHMD “will benefit the
BAMS UAS program,” he said.
Northrop offered the Global Hawk for its BAMS bid,
competing against Lockheed Martin’s Predator B,
dubbed the Mariner, in alliance with General Atomics,
and Boeing’s bid of General Dynamics’ modified
Gulfstream G-550 business jet.
Additionally boosting the Navy’s ISR capability will be
the Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS). The Navy
awarded Northrop Grumman a technology demonstration contract last year. Northrop’s X-47B is envisioned as
a carrier-capable, multimission, unmanned combat air
vehicle the size of a strike fighter.
The vehicle will be designed to be a survivable,
long-range, high-endurance and persistent platform
capable of a variety of missions, including ISR and
time-sensitive targeting and strike. Under the contract,
Northrop will demonstrate carrier-based launch and
recovery in the next decade. UCAS also will have
autonomous air refueling, Guerra said.
“The Navy is approaching maritime domain awareness in an extremely holistic fashion,” said Work. “The
Navy has a good plan and it seems to be proceeding
along with it.”
He said that plan includes the concept of global fleet
stations, through which the Navy is forging and
improving partnerships with regional navies across the
globe and training them to become more effective.
“No nation, let alone a single agency, has the capability or capacity to achieve maritime domain awareness unilaterally,” said Billingslea. It “requires broad
collaboration among many partners, each with a
potentially vital contribution to effective understanding of the maritime domain.”
Under the most recent maritime strategy, the Navy and
Coast Guard need to operate as a national fleet, harnessing
all available means, Work said. Because of the vast waterways that require coverage, the Navy also is spearheading
an effort to require smaller merchant vessels to carry an
automated information system — a transponder identifying the vessels and monitored through satellites.
With the proliferation of sensors and communications
systems, the thirst for bandwidth is insatiable. But more
bandwidth can only be achieved through satellites —
which could create havoc in the event of failure or attack.
Satellites have, however, been instrumental in providing
the Navy global coverage of the seas, allowing awareness
where naval assets are not on station, Billingslea said.
“The Navy plans for all scenarios, including those
involving degraded communications. We realize the
need to have redundant systems,” he said.
For example, the Navy recently adopted Sub-Net
Relay (SNR) and High-Frequency Internet Protocol
(HF IP) as a program of record.
Meanwhile, the Air Force, which is the lead agency
on satellite communications for the military, has been
looking into several backup technologies that could
support the proliferating unmanned systems, without
the need for satellites. Among them is the so-called
Objective Gateway, a big telephone switch in the sky, as
Air Force officials like to call it. The Objective Gateway
connects different datalink structures through a server
with an Internet Protocol router network.
The Air Force also has kick-started the so-called
Operationally Responsive Space program, which aims
to launch low Earth-orbit satellites for coverage of up
to 20 hours a day, a service official said.
As to the question of the system’s vulnerability as a
whole: “The world does not come to an end” if satellites fail, the Air Force official said. “It is very rare that
the whole thing fails at once. It fails in pieces; it’s a
more graceful degradation.” ■