Wednesday, 19 November 2014

It is the Capability which is Important

Militaries around the globe eye the acquisition of long-range,high-flying unmanned aircraft (UAS). Only this sort of airborne platforms are able to provide long-range, around-the-clock surveillance coverage, tracking of multiple targets, terrain analysis, and intelligence preparation of the battlefield with a minimum of human intervention.

The MQ-4C TRITON builds on elements of the GLOBAL HAWK UAS while incorporating automated flight control, navigation, de-icing, and lightning protection systems, as well as a sense and avoid radar system enabling the aircraft to avoid other aircraft traffic. (Photo: Northrop Grumman)
Strategic or endurance UAS like the GLOBAL HAWK (GH) system developed for the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) programme, now being established as an ‘UAS-only’ system, have been designed to function together with net-centric, knowledge-based forces. A ‘marinised’ derivative, the MQ-4C TRITON, will be deployed by the US Navy as an ideal platform to monitor expansive marine environments or events occurring outside of maritime borders. The new platform, forming part of an overall programme called BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance), will be primarily employed for general maritime surveillance which the shrinking fleet of the Navy’s P-3C ORION MPA has been done to date. The BAMS requirement calls for two prototypes plus 68 series aircraft that would be stationed at five locations around the globe, providing 24 hours of worldwide simultaneous coverage. The overall programme will cost the Navy an approximately US$13.24Bn.
According to Northrop Grumman Corporation's Programme Manager for TRITON, Mike Mackey, the aircraft incorporates reinforcements to its airframe and wing, along with de-icing and lightning protection systems, making it capable of “descending through cloud layers to gain a closer view of ships and other targets at sea when needed.” According to Mackey, “these are all the things you don’t have in a [GH] that allow us to operate in that environment unrestricted.”
Australia could be the first foreign customer of the TRITON. The government in Canberra considers the unmanned aircraft both as a military platform and as a customs enforcement platform. On 13 March 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Canberra’s intention to buy the TRITON, with the aircraft forming part of Australia’s Project Air 7000 two-phase ORION replacement programme: phase 1B entails procuring the TRITON, and Phase 2B is the acquisition of eight to 12 manned P-8A POSEIDON MPA in 2017. The government’s Defence White Paper, to be released in early 2015, should provide answers how Canberra will proceed with the programme. The government speaks of a number of six to eight airframes that could be commissioned into service around 2020.
Another possible export customer is India. Delhi was approached by Northrop Grumman Corporation, proposing the airframe in a complementary role to the 12 P-8I NEPTUNE MPA that were ordered from the US manufacturer Boeing.
Interest was also received from other nations: Canada (requesting a derivative based on the MQ-4B Block 30 for surveillance of the Canadian arctic region, replacing CP-140 AURORA MPA); Japan (requiring three aircraft); Germany (as a possible replacement of the EuroHawk project postponed in May 2013); Spain; and South Korea. The latter requested four Block 30 airframes in December 2012.
Germany's Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen should be aware of the urgent Bundeswehr requirement of a high-flying unmanned reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft. According to earlier plans, it should function as a principal political/military decision aid to fully cope with the new operational requirements that are arising as a result of commercial, environmental, security, and terrorism concerns. With the demise of the €650M EuroHawk project, which was approved by the outgoing chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Red-Green/Social Democrat-Green Party coalition government in 2005, and canceled by former Defence Minister Dr. Thomas de Maizière due to “massive problems” in May 2013, plans of the Ministry of Defence call for the TRITON as a “viable successor”, also replacing other manned/unmanned options like the Israeli HERON TP or an Airbus passenger aircraft. The CASSIDIAN-developed (now Airbus Defence and Space) Integrated SIGINT system (ISIS) – with a price tag of €288M – would be too heavy for the HERON TP, and its integration into an Airbus passenger aircraft would be too costly.
Now, Minister von der Leyen is about to order further testing of the ISIS system carried by the EuroHawk Full Scale Demonstrator aircraft. The aircraft was received on 21 July 2011 and now participates in NATO exercises based on short-term military flight authorisations. The possible successor of the EuroHawk Block 20 aircraft could be the TRITON, which was handled as a confidential project, according to an “oral instruction” and “without justification and specification” in December 2013. In the current Bundeswehr thinking, unmanned platforms like TRITON can be deployed within a dedicated C4I environment for a wider ISR role. Within this force structure, the aircraft acquires and disseminates ELINT and COMINT data that can be shared in time among various platforms, units, and commands (at whatever level). This will allow them – including governmental decision-making circles in Berlin – to make faster and better decisions.

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