Unmanned systems mean Navy and Marines will not cluster around carriers in the future

The Marine Corps and Navy are preparing for a high-end fight that will require ships to be distributed across the ocean rather than clustered around an aircraft carrier, and the Marines’ future Group 5 unmanned aerial system will give them the airborne early warning capability to break free from the carrier and its E-2D Advanced Hawkeye early warning aircraft.

With the F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter now fielded, an Upgunned Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) – a typical Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked on a three-ship Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), plus a couple cruisers or destroyers – is a formidable naval unit: it carries a Marine landing force, a fifth-generation stealthy fighter capability, a high-end radar paired with the Aegis Combat System, and the networking to tie them all together. The only thing missing is an airborne early warning system like the Navy’s E-2D to identify and cue surface and air threats.

That is the capability gap the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Expeditionary – or MUX – will fill.

“Think about the ESG, the Amphibious Ready Group, the large-deck amphib: even if it’s upgunned with a set of [surface warfare] assets with Aegis radars, we are still missing an airborne early warning capability. And therefore, in the fight of the future, we are going to be tied to the carrier strike group,” Brig. Gen. James Adams, director of the capabilities development directorate at Marine Corps headquarters, said during a MUX industry day presentation today.

“That’s why airborne early warning is our number-one top-tier requirement (for MUX). We don’t have an E-2D obviously with the ARG, we could never get one, but we need that capability present inside the ARG as we distribute forces in connection with and in support of the concepts – [Distributed Maritime Operations], [Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment], [Expeditionary Advance Base Operations] – in the future and enable the naval force to be more lethal and allow us separation from and integration with the carrier strike group. And that’s why [airborne early warning] is so important and why it bumped up from being way down somewhere in the ICD (initial capabilities document) as a nice-to-have to an absolute essential must-have.”

Adams said some lawmakers have gone so far as to suggest a light-carrier concept for the Marines so they could operate their own E-2Ds and have airborne early warning capabilities in ARG/MEU operations, and he said fielding the MUX will be a better solution to bringing that capability to the amphibious force.

When the MUX ICD was approved in October 2016, the Marines had laid out seven missions for the vehicle. Based on early industry feedback and evolving operational needs, airborne early warning is now the top priority. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); electronic warfare; and communications relay are also considered Tier 1 missions, with offensive air support being a Tier 2 mission. Escort and cargo have been struck as missions, with those requirements likely being filled by the Future Vertical Lift program in the 2030s.
There is more.

The convoy system grew out of the threat posed by submarine warfare especially in World War I and World War II.  The threat now is more disbursed and the ships should be disbursed to meet it.


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