Planners mull air-sea warfare in unmanned age

Unmanned vehicles might serve as pickets at sea in future battles

Nobody is quite sure, in this age of unmanned aircraft and other technology-based weaponry,  how to wage and win an air-sea battle. But it's something military planners and budget officials are talking about -- a lot.

Bill Sweetman in Aviation Week’s Ares Blog writes that the concept of air-sea battle is based on collaboration between land-based aircraft and naval forces and how the assets would gain control of the sea. Its roots can be traced to scenarios depicting U.S. armed conflict with China and Iran and how to deal with threats from submarines and cruise and ballistic missiles that could damage air bases and ships.

One of the key aspects of the emerging doctrine would be the widespread use of unmanned aircraft systems for targeting. To this end, the Navy is exploring how it might use its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UAV for targeting enemy ships.

Also worth noting is that the Air Force has tested the effectiveness of using airborne infrared missile tracking on the Reaper UAV to track and target ballistic missiles.

A possible role of UAVs in the air-sea battle concept would be using unarmed UAVs as pickets possibly against surface ships or missiles. However, the danger is that they would become targets for enemy fire.

Playing heavily into all of this will be the Navy’s plans for an unmanned combat air vehicle and the Air Force future plans for a next-generation bomber. Attempts to develop a joint platform remain problematic because of size and payload requirements.

It’s important to bear in mind that what is really at stake is a sea-air-space scenario. This is because space-based surveillance is a basic component of an anti-ship ballistic missile system and plays a key role in ballistic missile defense.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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