April 17, 2014

These Aren't the Drones You're Looking For

By Paul Scharre, and Shawn Brimley

Source: Foreign Policy

Journalist(s) Shawn Brimley, Paul Scharre

The aircraft carrier is perhaps the most powerful symbol of the U.S. military and a formidable weapon for projecting American might abroad, and yet the Navy is about to make a choice that will make it less relevant for future wars.

In just a few days, the Navy will begin specifying requirements for a new unmanned carrier-launched combat aircraft, called UCLASS -- the Navy's first operational program for an unmanned combat aircraft, or "drone," designed and built to operate from an aircraft carrier. The Navy faces a stark choice: procure a non-stealthy loitering drone like the land-based Predator, or a stealthy penetrating drone like the X-47B unmanned carrier demonstrator. If the aircraft carrier is to stay relevant in future conflicts, it will need a stealthy penetrating drone to fly inside advanced enemy air defenses, where non-stealthy aircraft like today's Predator arevulnerableAll indications are that the Navy is set to choose a non-stealthy version, which will severely limit the carrier's usefulness in future conflicts. 

U.S. aircraft carriers can move across the seas today virtually unchallenged by other nations' militaries, but that is changing fast. Anti-ship ballistic missiles like China's DF-21D can threaten U.S. aircraft carriers beyond 800 nautical miles. This is a major problem as theunrefueled range of the carrier's current aircraft is only 500-650 nautical miles, meaning that it would need to expose itself to salvos of ballistic missiles in order to launch its aircraft. This trend will only get worse as anti-ship missiles gain longer range and greater precision, and proliferate in greater numbers.  

Please visit Foreign Policy to read the full article. 

  • Paul Scharre

    Senior Fellow and Director, Technology and National Security Program

    Paul Scharre is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. From 2008-2013, Mr. Scharre worked in t...

  • Shawn Brimley

    Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Shawn Brimley is Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) where he manages the center’s research agenda and staff. Mr....