US Navy Demonstrates Increased UAV Capability as BAMS Program Looks to be Downsized

K.B. Sherman, 2004

In a first for the US Navy, on 19 December 2003, a P-3C launched from NAS PAX RIVER (MD) and, while in flight, took control of a Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff Unmanned Aerial Vehicle from its launch to its recovery. The P-3 demonstrated Level V control of the UAV by controlling not only its flight and landing, but commanding its sensor payload while airborne. The P-3 linked to the Fire Scout with its Tactical Control System (Raytheon Corporation, El Segundo, CA) and controlled the UAV and its sensors through its Tactical Common Data Link (L-3 Communication Systems-West, Salt Lake City, UT). The TCDL is a common digital data link used as a communication transmission medium to connect the Air Vehicle and the TCS ground system. Both systems were integrated aboard the P-3C by Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors-Tactical Systems (Eagan, MN.) This configuration enhances the P-3’s capability to perform over the horizon targeting while increasing both the Fire Scout’s and P-3’s survivability. Following the test, NAVAIR PMA-290 Project Manager CAPT Steve Eastburg noted that the test proved the Navy’s increasing capability “to decrease the targeting timeline, improve situational awareness and post-strike battle damage assessment, and provide a communication relay role for battle group assets."

During the demonstration the P-3 sent the Fire Scout toward a US Coast Guard ship acting as the target. The UAV broadcast streaming electro-optical video via the TCDL to the P-3C, which then relayed the video, along with the P-3’s onboard electro-optical sensor data, to a ground station at Webster Field, providing real world network centric tactical data. NAVAIR noted that when the Fire Scout was recovered ashore at Webster Field, proof of concept was realized regarding risk mitigation in the arena of maritime ISR and targeting – a concept critical for the successful fielding of the Multimission Maritime Aircraft/Broad Area Maritime Surveillance pairing. The Navy RQ-8A Fire Scout has a service ceiling of 20,000 feet and range of 150 nautical miles of its ground control station – considerably farther when being controlled from the air.

Raytheon’s Gerald Bazemore noted that this test was so successful in proving potential risk reduction for the MMA Program that a subsequent VIP demo scheduled for February had been cancelled. “TCS Level V is the highest level of control of a UAV,” noted Bazemore. Level I is a TCS capability to receive and display imagery or data without direct interaction with the air vehicle providing the imagery; Level II is the ability of the TCS to receive imagery directly from the air vehicle without it being processed at another location; Level III is a TCS capability to control the air vehicle’s onboard sensor payload but not the flight of the air vehicle; Level IV adds flight control; and Level V entails full control of the UAV, including launch and recovery. Soup to nuts.

Tactical/battle control of a UAV from a maritime patrol aircraft is the essence of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Program. “The P3 AIP/ TCS demo shows one potential concept of how MMA platforms (manned air vehicle) can be interoperable with a BAMS UAV,” reiterated Bazemore. TCS core architecture is designed to have multiple type UAV and payload control providing connection to various services’ C4I systems.

This test followed the 100th successful test of the RQ-8A on 17 December – the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brother’s first successful airplane flight. This milestone flight also took place at Webster Field, where Fire Scout continued its test series involving operations aboard USS Denver (LPD-9). This series has involved flights carrying the General Atomics Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar with Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI), the Navy’s baseline electro-optical/ infrared/ laser designator range finder, and a communications relay payload. Under development is the engineering for installation of two 4-pack 2.75" rocket launchers that will carry Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System laser-guided rockets. Live firings are to occur in 2004 with unguided rockets, followed by a guided version (when available). Other weapons initiatives next year include weapons testing with Viper Strike, a laser-guided precision munition.

While the Fire Scout VTOL craft is, by its nature, relatively slow and short-ranged when compared to fixed-wing aircraft and therefore not the type of UAV the Navy has been proposing for its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Program, this recently concluded test is directly applicable to many of the concepts being planned for BAMS. And with BAMS under increasing financial pressure because of an ever-tightening Navy budget, both PMA-290 and NAVAIR’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Program Office (PMA-263), which jointly sponsored the latest demonstration, remain publicly upbeat about the test’s contribution to the future of Navy UAV operations. At a time when larger, more expensive UAVs may simply be beyond the Navy’s ability to afford, smaller UAVs such as Fire Scout may find a home within the BAMS Program.

In related news, Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems (Moorestown, NJ) and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., (San Diego, CA) recently announced they had teamed to develop an entry for the US Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) competition. BAMS UAV is a $2 billion + program to provide the Navy with a long-endurance, unmanned Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) UAV/UCAV. The BAMS UAV program seeks to expand the Navy's BAMS capability and complement the transition from the Navy's current P-3C aircraft to the proposed Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft. Lockheed Martin will integrate its avionics mission systems with an unmanned aircraft. One likely vehicle is a variant of GA-ASI's Predator B – Extended Range vehicle.

The idea is to expand the capabilities of the maritime patrol aircraft without needing a second manned aircraft. The need is for a persistent ISR vehicle that can pass real-time information to not only the mother maritime aircraft but to a variety of networked littoral and battle group assets. The BAMS UAV will be an "information hub," in the words of General Atomics, performing missions such as ISR queuing, strike support, signal intelligence collection and communications relay. The BAMS UAV will be able to operate both independently or through direct control with carrier battle groups, amphibious assault ships, or with other manned, unmanned and space-based platforms -- an aggressive set of operational goals given current technology. An award for the engineering manufacturing demonstration phase is slated for June 2004. Lockheed Martin will serve as the LM-GA BAMS entry prime contractor. MMA is to replace the P-3C, an aircraft whose service life for the earliest produced will begin expiring in 2003 and reach into 2015 for the lowest-time airframes. It was also to replace the EP-3E, although recent events indicate that this is no longer the case as a cash-strapped US military seeks to consolidate its ISR and SIGINT assets (the EP-3E is now likely to be replaced with a US Army Guardrail-type aircraft, or even share such aircraft with the Army).

The idea of combining manned and unmanned aircraft for MMA BAMS was early conclusion of the Navy's MMA Analysis of Alternatives. In March 2003, the MMA team conducted the fifth Joint Working Group. The meeting was part of the Cooperative Avionics and Mission Systems Study for MMA, and the Japan Maritime Patrol P-X programs. The purpose of the panel was to create a strategy for the development of the MMA/Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (BAMS-UAV) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

In the short term, the Navy plans to capitalize upon existing systems, to include Global Hawk, Predator, and Dragon Warrior/Sea Dragon Warrior. Goals are capability for "persistent surveillance," Battlespace Dominance, "long-dwell" standoff ISR, penetrating surveillance/SEAD/Strike, and tactical surveillance and targeting. The range of possible vehicles ranges from "a Predator-B-like" capable UAV down to a mini/micro/expendable capability. More specifically, the BAMS UAV is to be "littoral ISR and armed capable;" specifically, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, ISR, and peacetime access with wartime force concentration (think anti-terrorism). However, the BAMS PEO has already concluded that, at least for the foreseeable future, UAV's are NOT (their emphasis) envisioned as replacements for manned platforms. Rather, “properly equipped, UAVs may fill shortfalls in the Commander's-in-Chief requirements that are not currently affordable.” However, knowing well the workings of the "pilot protective association" that inhabits the Navy's and Air Force’s top ranks, this mindset is both expected and unrealistic. College-educated Navy and Air Force pilots look at the growing recruitment of "teenage video game” UAV pilots – destined to be warrant officers or even NCOs -- with an elevated degree of horror.

A spokesperson for the Navy's Strike Weapons and Unmanned Aviation Office declined to provide any further details on either the Lockheed Martin-General Atomics partnering or the BAMS UAV program, saying simply that until the Navy had gone further in the program, no additional details would be available from that office. Lockheed Martin also chose not to comment. General Atomic's Robert Baugniet pointed toward some details about his company's UAV. Predator-B Extended range has a 64-foot wingspan, 285 mph speed at 60,000 feet, 32 hour endurance, and 750-pound payload. Global Hawk – noted by the Navy's BAM PEO as the aircraft already tentatively ordered for trails in 2005 -- is a bit larger, with a 116 foot wingspan, an empty weight of 25,600 pounds, and a speed of 455 mph at 65,000 feet. Both aircraft are quite impressive, not withstanding that they are unmanned and are to be controlled from the MMA, a ship, or ground station.

Competition for the BAMS UAV continues to heating-up. In anticipation of the Navy's release of an initial request for proposals with the aim of deploying a system by the end of the decade, Gulfstream Aerospace in July unveiled the G550 UAV, a pilotless version of its corporate jet, to meet US Navy requirement for the BAMS competition. Designated the RQ-37, the main drawback is size and cost, with a “green,” unequipped G550 selling for around $35 million, compared with Northrop Grumman's claimed $24.3 million price for the RQ-4A Global Hawk and $4 million for an extended-range version of the smaller General Atomics MQ-9A Predator-B. The G550 is a top-of-the-line GV-SP, at $44.75 million (2002) as a fully equipped airplane (with training and maintenance included in the price tag). The G550 has a range of 6,750 NM, a long-range cruise speed of 0.80 Mach (573 mph), and a maximum payload of 6,200 pounds. The Navy is reported to be interested in the Gulfstream concept, given that, like the Global Hawk and Predator, the baseline platform represents an off-the-shelf solution capable of meeting a 2009 in-service date. The trade-off against cost would be reduced platform numbers, providing Gulfstream can show that its aircraft is reliable enough to be able to meet mission needs with fewer vehicles. The RQ-37 is also to use automated responses to EICAS messages, and provide periodic software and hardware upgrades. With flight controls specialist Sierra Nevada Corp. (Sparks, NV), Gulfstream is planning an unmanned demonstration of the aircraft in early 2004. Gulfstream says the aircraft will have between three and four times the payload of the Global Hawk, with up to 15.5-hour endurance and up to 240kVA electrical power to drive sensors. While the Navy has not released its specific BAMS sensor suite requirements, Gulfstream claims the RQ-37 will be able to host a wide range of possible systems, including a synthetic aperture radar, electro-optical/infrared, electronic intelligence and ballistic/theatre missile defense sensors.

Meanwhile, the Navy is planning to soon start sea trials of the Northrop Grumman RQ-8A Fire Scout, possibly with international participation. The US Senate recently approved additional development and procurement funding for the vertical take-off/landing unmanned air vehicle (VTUAV). Northrop Grumman is proceeding with a sea trials program, which most recently involved its rotary-wing UAV landing and taking off from the Austin-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Denver (LPD-9). France, Germany, Japan, Spain and the UK are said to be interested in the results. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) has voted to add an extra $46.4million to the Fire Scout program, according to Flight International. The SAC has also directed eight more Fire Scouts be procured for the navy's concept of operations studies. The money will also be used to develop the more robust RQ-8B, including a new four-blade main rotor for improved payload performance. The extra payload will permit the addition of a synthetic aperture radar, as well as an infrared/electro-optical sensor.

In early January, NAVAIR spokesperson Sandra Schroeder reported that the BAMS acquisition strategy had not yet been approved and thus the RFP had yet to be released. Despite this, the Navy has indicated that it plans to take delivery of the first three BAMS UAVs in FY05 and the UAV is likely to be similar to tandem-thrust Maritime Global Hawks. At least one is to be equipped with 360° radar with SAR/ISAR, GMTI/MMTI, turreted EO/IR sensor (perhaps with cross-cueing from the existing ESM to the other sensors), and a mission control element. They may also have the capability to be integrated with a Tactical Support Center (TSC) and provide real-time imagery and other data products. Current plans of PMA-263, the Program Executive Office for Broad Area Maritime Surveillance, call for fielding and evaluation of BAMS UAV alternatives through 2008, with a final selection for production made at the beginning of 2009. In January the Navy suddenly and unexpectedly removed approximately $500 million from the BAMS program in its 2005 to 2009 spending plans. The cut in the Pentagon's 2005 budget request -- which has to be approved by the White House -- leaves BAMS in a descending spiral. The total BAMS program, which was to be fielded by 2008, was to cost about $2 billion and the BAMS program office was planning to release a draft request for proposals by February. While the Navy does not yet have a fielded UAV system, it is working on several candidates, including the VTOL Fire Scout (see article in this month’s issue), and is also working with the USAF on a fighter UAV. The Navy is reported to have cut BAMS development funds by half to pay for other priorities, including operations and maintenance, shipbuilding and aircraft programs.

The BAMS UAV is a critical component of the Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft program, as MMA will replace approximately 230 P-3Cs with just 108 new manned aircraft. The Navy still has on order two Global Hawk UAVs for use as developmental demonstrators, and this portion of the BAMS project had been budgeted for about $180 million. Testing of these UAVs was to have been part of an upcoming Fleet Battle Experiment. However, this money has reportedly been shifted to the Air Force for “undisclosed reasons,” which probably means Air Force UAV development an inter-service battle for control of the coming UAV/UCAV fleet.

The Lockheed Martin-General Atomics Predator-B UAV faces stiff competition for the BAMS contract, not only from Northrop Grumman, Gulfstream Aerospace and others, but for development dollars from DOD