Tuesday, October 27, 2009

BAMS: are we a learning institution?

The Air Force has our jock.

First of all - in case you missed it, in another case of acronym sillyness .... BAMS UAV (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is now BAMS UAS, where UAS stands for (
Unmanned Aircraft System). I guess that makes sense to someone .... I hope they at least got a NCM out of that name change - I am sure a lawyer had something to do with it. Like Papa Salamander would say; whatever.

As outlined
well in 05, in summary; BAMS was/is meant to augment what manned Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance aircraft do (enter P-3 mafia joke here).

Before we wander off on the subject at hand, BAMS, let's review what happened with Predator UAV/UAS.

In the pre-Long War world, Predators were the unarmed red-headed, left-handed step child that the USAF kept because it was a nice toy that gave them something to do with their pac(-) F-16 pilots. Those nasty folks at the CIA liked what they saw in early '01 with an armed Predator demonstrator that no one would talk about, and helped move forward the project - though the CIA drones were easy to tell from the USAF ones back then for reasons I think I should keep to myself - but you'se guy'z who know, know. I always thought that was a funny oversight.

As the Long War came out in full bloom and we started to see the usefulness of
greasy spots on desert floors, we quickly moved from armed Predators (MQ-1A/B) to the mo-bett'ah and appropriately named Reaper (MQ-9). Even the Italians and Brits are in on the act.

So, what you have here is a nice, operational, learning, evolutionary institutional response to lessons learned due to real-world combat experience. An unarmed program progresses to an armed experiment to an updated armed version to a further update - and so on. In hindsight, is all has a "why didn't we think of that in the first place" mindset - but that is OK, we learn as things come up.

That is, learning institutions do.

It is easy to understand why, with a pre-conflict mindset, you are focused on spending only a $1 as opposed to $1.10 - even if that $.10 will buy you an additional $1.50 of theoretical conflict utility. There is also the focus on risk mitigation - as things with yellow bands that go boom are dangerous, costly, and "If some E-3 messes up their loading proceedures during my tour, it might impact a promotion to O-6 ...." etc.

BZ to the Boys in Blue though - they responded properly to a nation at war.

So, lets get back to BAMS. Go over to
NAVAIR's site and read a bit.
The BAMS UAS will be an integrated System of Systems and a force multiplier for the Joint Force and Fleet Commander, enhancing situational awareness of the battlespace and shortening the sensor-to-shooter kill chain by providing a multi-sensor, persistent maritime Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability. BAMS UAS will provide surveillance when no other naval forces are present, support operations in the littorals to include support for Marine Expeditionary Units conducting operations from Expeditionary Strike Groups, and respond to Theater level operational or National strategic tasking. BAMS UAS will deliver to the warfighter an unprecedented capability to maintain persistent ISR virtually anywhere in the world – 24 hours per day / 7 days per week.
That is a very nice description of the program, but do you hear what I hear? It is as if the program is stuck in a pre-Long War bubble. It is as if the experience with UAS (yes, dear - I will use the new term, though under protest) over the last eight years has not been watched and adjustments made - as if the program has been running on blinkered focus non-stop. Imagine as if the builders of the B-29 did not take the lessons of self-defense armament in the B-17 into account.

I do not see anywhere a description or requirements outline - or in my search a discussion of - the need to find a way to make BAMS have some kink of armed capability - or of an armed UAS with USN on it.

Oh, and let me stop you right now. If you say "Firescout" you will immediately be sent to the 1st LT to work with BM1 Prolapse. We are talking about persistent armed ISR .... Firescout is to BAMS/Reaper what MH-60 is to P-8A. No throwing UCAV-N either. That is just an evolutionary growth of the TLAM concept - except this time it is reusable and can do more things. Doesn't count for what we are talking about here. Kind of like calling a Dauntless Diver Bomber a fighter plane; you get the idea.

If the engineers come back and say that unlike the lower altitude MQ-1A/B-MQ-9, you can't modify the Global Hawk base airframe to make an armed option - then the question must be asked; have we selected the wrong airframe?

I do not think that the a thinking response is that there is no requirement for armed maritime UAS. That might be a bureaucratic answer when one thinks of war in POM cycles and you are focused on the War After Next instead of the War Where Shipmates are Being Killed Today.

Now let's look at the rub.

Where the BAMS Demonstrator (BAMS-D) did just finish its first deployment - another deployment is going on that should have the attention of everyone in the Navy of any designator.
...unmanned U.S. military surveillance planes called MQ-9 Reapers stationed on the island nation of Seychelles are being deployed to patrol the Indian Ocean in search of pirates, Moeller told The Associated Press in an interview at command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. The patrols began this week, military officials said.

The 36-foot-long Reapers are the size of a jet fighter, can fly about 16 hours and are capable of carrying a dozen guided bombs and missiles. They are outfitted with infrared, laser and radar targeting.

Military officials said Friday the drones would not immediately be fitted with weaponry, but they did not rule out doing so in the future.
...and yes, I caught this part.
Analysts said they expected the Reapers would also be used to hunt al-Qaida and other Islamist militants in Somalia. While Moeller said the aircraft would "primarily" be used against pirates, he acknowledged they could also be used for other missions.
I can hear, "its just a cover" right now. Nice excuse and dodge - but don't avoid the topic at hand. Let's use this to talk about the subject at hand. Does the USN need an armed UAS besides, sigh, the tactical Firescout - or has the USAF sitting on the other side of the football field waving our collective jock in the air?

They key here is having the armed option. Play Commander from the O5-10 level for a moment.

If you have two options in the littoral for patrol - one that will give you the option to engage a target with weapons - while the other offers "off-site target servicing" - as the Commander, which one is going to go on your Statement of Requirements?

BAMS makes you think: "
No thank you Navy - go out in the Blue Water and count ships or something. Oh, do you guys get Per Diem to do this?"

Reaper makes you think: "
Yea, you guys have an operational mindset, get close. If I need you for more, I'll ask for it, thanks for the option. I like you - let's play golf sometime."

Is that where we will be in the next decade as BAMS fleshes out and deploys? Are we buying a hunting dog born with only one eye and a bad hip - simply because before the litter was born we asked for the first male out the litter?

Someone out there tell me there is an armed option in the future for the Navy UAS force outside of Firescout. If not, then perhaps Big Navy should consider that it is making a significant error in its platform selection.

Almost two years ago, Steve Trimble had a
nice, short discussion about second guessing the BAMS buy. I think he is right.

I believe we may have been too short sighted, myopic in a way, of sticking with one platform with a surveillance mindset only. With the Reaper deployment, that fact becomes an operational reality. Due to what was probably/possibly/partially an internal Navy Air problem (
i.e. TACAIR mafia not wanting UAS to take some of their armed missions, P-3/MPR mafia wanting a platform as soon as possible to bridge the falling numbers of MPR Commands once P-8 comes online - and both telling everyone that other platforms can "service the target") --- we may have opened the door to the USAF taking what should rightfully be a Navy mission.

If someone told you out of the blue that American military aircraft would be flying out of The Seychelles - and they did not have USN on the side, you probably think this was some WWII story. No, this is 2009 - and it looks like the USAF has the drop on us.

Our bust. Somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard between Norfolk, Pax River and the Potomac Flotilla, someone is laughing like
Tim with an "I told you so" chorus - because in the early stages of BAMS, I know this question had to have been asked. It was, wasn't it?

UPDATE: Do we learn, or are we just too quite? As pointed out by CDR K in comments, these may well be USN Reapers. Maybe, because even though prior to publication of this post - I asked a couple of people who are very involved in this area, and they didn't know these were Navy.

I am aware that the Navy version of the Reaper, the Mariner, was a rejected part of the BAMS project. As far as I can tell - there was no dual purchase program - so, why does the Navy now have Reapers? From what base? What command? Where is the Navy PAO on this?

I think I may have an answer though. Digging around some more, from FEB 09, I find
The US Navy is preparing to forward-deploy the Reaper UAS. The acknowledgement was made by Rear Admiral Mark Kenny, Director, Navy Irregular Warfare (N3/N5), during a briefing to the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Program Review 2009.

Referring to the navy’s extensive use of contractors and contractor support for unmanned systems operations in the past, Kenny noted, ‘there is a time and a place for that. We have been very impressed with our responsive contractor partners, whether it’s going through the jungles of Africa with us or going out to sea. They’ve been tremendous. [But] there is also a time and place to transfer some of this to the Navy and Navy pilots.’

‘In UAVs, we are standing up squadrons of those. We have got efforts with Reapers, where the Navy is going to fly Reaper aircraft ‘forward,’ rather than from Nellis Air Force Base,’ he said.

Noting that the forward operating capability would ‘allow us to control these aircraft and sensors from sea,’ he added, ‘It’s a huge change in the paradigm of how UAVs are operated. But unless we can have access to the information and control of the bird, in the places that we go, we aren’t interested in having to worry about operators back in [Continental United States] – both in driving the birds or processing the intelligence. So those are deploying here in a few months. Again that system gets classified very quickly. But it has driven us to train our own Reaper pilots.’

When asked about platform ownership, Kenny confirmed that the Reapers ‘will be Navy-owned,’ characterising the activity as a ‘Navy / SOCOM [Special Operations Command] project.’
Ahhh ha. That is a different kettle of fish. Navy/SOCOM Reapers have a different mission set, and are in that grey area .... let's just say .... not a "Big Navy" platform.

So, post and comments stand. We know Navy SOF is a learning institution .... they always have been .... but is BAMS and our "normal Navy" UAS program?

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