The Pentagon is cancelling a controversial medal designed to recognize contributions of unmanned aerial vehicle pilots and cyber troops, according to a Monday memorandum signed by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel obtained by USNI News. Read More
Proceedings, September 2012
What types of aircraft will be deployed on tomorrow’s flattops?
What should the carrier air wing (CVW) of the future look like? This rather abstruse topic has taken on new significance of late as a consequence of the article in the July issue of Proceedingsby Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert. The title of the article, “Payloads over Platforms: Charting a New Course,” the discussion in it of the diminishing value of stealth, and the positive mentions of both the F/A-18 Hornet and unmanned systems such as the Scan Eagle and Fire Scout led some observers to accuse the CNO of somehow being secretly opposed to the carrier variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Under intense criticism, Admiral Greenert and his staff appear to be employing the “Humpty Dumpty” defense (“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”), asserting that the article did not refer in any way to the F-35 but instead to stealth in the future. 1
The F-35 non-controversy aside, Admiral Greenert made a profound statement that could have dramatic implications for the character of U.S. air power in general and the future CVW in particular. The CNO declared that “we need to move from ‘luxury-car’ platforms—with their built-in capabilities—toward dependable ‘trucks’ that can handle a changing payload selection.” Why? Well, by definition “luxury car” platforms are expensive both to buy and maintain. In addition, they tend to look good and have great performance but can be of limited utility. A dependable “truck” has a wider range of uses, particularly if one doesn’t mind riding in the back. A payload-centric approach also allows for more rapid technological refresh at lower cost as well as the ability to tailor forces for the conflict du jour.
One conclusion to be drawn from the CNO’s assertion is that the value of the performance characteristics associated with so-called luxury-car platforms is declining. Those include stealth, speed, maneuverability, perhaps even survivability. There are several reasons for the Navy’s tastes in tactical aircraft to be changing. Obviously, two related ones are declining defense budgets and the high cost of advanced manned platforms. Another is concern regarding the anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) threat.