Head of US Navy’s Air Patrol and Recon Confirms Developments

25 November 2008

RADM Michael L. Holmes, Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group, recently gave an interview to Seapower Magazine regarding the future of the US Navy’s Patrol and Reconnaissance squadrons. Holmes is responsible to the commander, Naval Air Forces, for manning, training and equipping the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force of seventeen patrol, special projects patrol, and fleet air reconnaissance squadrons. In his interview Holmes confirmed Navy planning despite an ever more threatened budget as detailed here in The Nav Log, and offered additional details.

Holmes noted that, while the P-8 is fully funded through 2013, “It can’t come a minute too soon, given the problems we’ve got with the old P-3.” He noted that there will have to be less than the current 12 VP squadrons (the Nav Log is predicting six plus the FRS). The EP-3E will not be replaced by a P-8 derivative, but rather, with the joint Army-Navy Aerial Common Sensor platform that has been having fits and starts since the EMB-145 was rejected as inadequate. Unmanned vehicles -- Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) -- will, indeed, replace the lion’s share of long-range surveillance for both anti-submarine warfare and electronic intelligence. ASW itself will remain VP’s core mission despite patrol aviation now spending most of its time over land in support of the war on terror. And Holmes insists that the P-8 will not be replaced any time soon with a UAV because of the complexity of VP missions and the aircraft’s requirement to carry a large load of ordnance.

Holmes expanded upon new ways of doing the job. These include use of the new Mk54 lightweight torpedo, which will be delivered from high altitude as a modified glide bomb to both keep the aircraft from detection as well as to save on airframe wear at low altitudes. OPNAV (the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations) is trying to find the money to fund a high-altitude torpedo to drop from 20,000 feet. The Navy is also at work making sonobuoys with GPS, allowing instant location of a contact. Also in the works is a real-time link between the bouy’s GPS location and the torpedo’s guidance. Sonobouys will also be active, for the most part, because passive detection of a 4th generation diesel-electric sub on batteries is nearly impossible.

With a new Congress already bragging about cutting the defense budget “by 25% to start,” how many of these plans become reality is, well, up in the air.

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