In a recent interview with the New York Times, Vice Adm. Mark Fox, deputy chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Strategy (N3/N5), discussed how the Navy uses remotely piloted intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems to enhance the Navy’s warfighting capabilities.
“Low-end ISR assets give you a much better understanding of what’s going on around you just over the horizon,” Fox said. He added, ISR could be considered a game changer because it gives the Navy the ability to be the first with the truth.
ScanEagle is an example of a low-end ISR asset. At just 44 pounds, the fixed-wing system can be handled by a single person. What’s inside? All of its components are commercially available. It has a 1.9 horsepower engine – like a lawnmower.
All branches of the military are using ScanEagle for their own missions, said Fox.
In 2009, for example, Navy operators used ScanEagle to support rescue operations of the Maersk Alabama, Fox explained. Somali pirates took the merchant ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, hostage and escaped in one of the ship’s lifeboats with him. ScanEagle provided operators intelligence reconnaissance about the environment surrounding the lifeboat where Phillips was located. The added intelligence provided by ISR ultimately led to the safe return of the captain.
ScanEagle isn’t the Navy’s only remotely-piloted ISR asset. The Navy also employs the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator, which is similar to the Air Force’s Global Hawk. While the systems are similar, the way the Navy uses BAMS-D is different from the Air Force, which operates the Global Hawk more like a U-2 with a flight route and data package, said Fox. Think of BAMS-D, which can soar nearly 11 miles above the ground or up to 60,000 feet, more like a maritime patrol with the flexibility to investigate what’s below.
Fox, a career naval aviator, doesn’t see remotely-piloted ISR platforms as a threat to the need for future aviators.
“I don’t think we will ever reach the point where we will ever go to a totally remotely piloted construct and the reason is sortie generation requires human intervention. And maybe someday we will, but we’re not to the point where we are capable of recovering an airplane turning it around, taking it to the catapult and firing it back off again rearmed and refueled. These are much more deliberate kind of steps and the vagaries of operating at sea require a lot of instant judgment that thus far automation has not always caught up with. So enormous potential tremendous possibility, speaking as a professional aviator, I don’t see this as a threat. I see it as a compliment that will help us to our job, as we evolve it and develop it.”
How do you think remotely piloted ISR platforms will enhance our capabilities?