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Marines Revisit Shipboard Group 5 UAS Requirements After Industry Warnings of High Cost

The Office of Naval Research and DARPA are collaborating on the Tern project to give forward-deployed small ships the ability to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems that would provide ISR and other capabilities. DARPA rendering.

SAN DIEGO – The Marine Corps is reconsidering the requirements for its large amphibious ship-based unmanned aerial system (UAS), after early industry input showed the service was headed towards something too large and too expensive, the deputy commandant for combat development and integration told reporters today.

Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh said the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) UAS Expeditionary (MUX) program proves why industry input during the requirements-generation process is so important. The MUX initial capabilities document (ICD) made its way through the Joint Requirements Oversight Council process in October 2016 because the Marines were able to prove they were seeking a capability not already found in the joint force – specifically, a large Group 4 or Group 5 UAS capable of operating from a ship or small expeditionary airfield and conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

What the JROC failed to see, though, which industry has told the Marine Corps recently, is that the requirements lend themselves to an MV-22 Osprey-like vehicle in terms of size and cost, Walsh told reporters after speaking at the WEST 2018 event, cohosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA.

The MUX program merges what used to be two requirements, and covers seven mission areas, USNI News has previously reported: MAGTF C4 (Command, Control, Communications and Computing with Spectrum Agile Data Routing); early warning; persistent fires; escort; electronic warfare; reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition (RISTA); and tactical distribution.

“If you look at the (San Antonio-class) LPDs that are out, many times doing their own operations – could be off of Africa, someplace doing operations – they need organic ISR capability,” Walsh said.
“When you look at our LHAs, our big deck, our ARG/MEUs (Amphibious Ready Groups/Marine Expeditionary Units), the thing that I think we’re missing is a platform that can go out against this kind of threat: long range, airborne early warning, has [electronic warfare] capabilities, ISR capabilities. The ICD we wrote was really all-encompassing: we were calling it a Group 4 or Group 5 that could have logistics capabilities with it, so we started really working with the contractors off the ICD and what we were kind of getting from them was, boy, this is a pretty big broad capability – this is going to be big and this is going to be expensive. They were almost looking to develop a V-22 unmanned sized and cost aircraft. So we looked at that and said, okay, that’s why we’ve got to work with industry more as we develop requirements.”

Ultimately the Marine Corps decided that industry was already investing in sophisticated unmanned logistics systems, which the service has learned through its Sea Dragon experimentation efforts. So the unmanned airborne logistics piece will likely be broken off from MUX and addressed through other means, Walsh said.

Narrowing the scope of the MUX requirements will allow more time and attention for other trades: “should it escort a V-22? Should it be armed? Those are the kind of things we’re going to have to kind of neck down and figure out the cost and what do we really need,” Walsh said.
“What we really need for sure is an unmanned system coming off of an ARG/MEU, could come off the LPD or LX(R) also, that can have long-dwell airborne early warning and ISR capabilities that we don’t have right now.”

Walsh said his colleague, Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, wants to release a request for information on the MUX program soon, but Walsh hopes to first conduct an industry symposium to further inform the requirements before Rudder takes over the program acquisition. The symposium, which will likely be held in the next month or two, will take industry ideas and help shape the upcoming analysis of alternatives (AoA).

“What we want to do is give the AoA a much better start, because we’re already … hearing from industry, you’re asking for too much, it’s going to cost too much. And I’m going, well why would I start the AoA if they’re already telling me that?” Walsh said.
“So we want to take the time, take a pause, get with them and start the AoA with the right requirements before we move forward.”

  • kye154

    Who are the Marines really preparing war with? Some potential high tech enemy or the American taxpayer? Now they are thinking of using UAS, when the F-35B was suppose to do the trick for them. Seems like the Mrines are children in a Christmas shop wanting to take home and play with everything they can get their hands on, without any concern for how much it will costs..

  • DaSaint

    Don’t see any reason for a USMC bird to be doing early warning, or escort. A Navy platform should be doing AEW, and if that’s a vertical UAS then fine. Attack helos should be doing King Stallion and V-22 escort work; and the F-35 should be able to handle the electronic warfare spectrums, or so we were told.

    So ISR and persistent fires, sure, but let’s keep it relatively simple and affordable. Here’s an idea…Fire Scout. How about trialing that for USMC needs?

    • El_Sid

      Well if you accept the need for the USMC to have its own airforce, then it seems plausible to round it out with some kind of internal ASaC capability – it’s the sort of thing that is equally useful on land as at sea. The RN ASaC Sea Kings were some of the most useful units in Afghanistan, providing the “glue” between air and land forces.

      So ISR and persistent fires, sure, but let’s keep it relatively simple
      and affordable. Here’s an idea…Fire Scout. How about trialing that for
      USMC needs?

      It’s always been an option – but as usually happens, the USMC tried to get something super-Gucci like the EFV. The difference is that someone has told them “no”. So yep, they may well end up with a Fire Scout derivative, or (perhaps more fitting with the “payloads” mentality) something like the Crowsnest module that can be fitted to any RN Merlin.

      • DaSaint

        Points well taken. I’m betting on a Fire Scout derivative.

      • Jason

        No way. Fire Scout has no where near the payload for an AEW platform. Besides, wings provide a really cheap form of lift… Yes, you could scale up a fire scout substantial, but if you are going to do that, you might as well start clean. Either a tail sitter or tilt rotor are going to give you far more range, endurance, or payload compared to a similarly sized helo.

        • El_Sid

          MQ-8C is what, over 300kg? That’s more than enough for some comms etc and something like Seaspray – it’s not exactly an E-3, but it’s still useful for ISR. More importantly, it fits in with the idea of “simple and affordable”, which implies working with what you have on the shelf rather than building something that ends up complex and unaffordable – or cancelled, like the EFV.

          TERN will deliver the kind of thing you’re talking about, but that’s still at the DARPA prototype stage, how about the USMC making do with what is currently available for once?