On the pages of "VO" the idea of using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for naval war has been repeatedly expressed. This idea is certainly sound. And there is no doubt that in the foreseeable future, UAVs will indeed become an important element of modern war at sea.
But, unfortunately, as is often the case with any new species weapons, UAV capabilities are often absolutized. Simply put, people think that the new weapon has much more potential than it really is. Let's try to impartially study what modern UAVs can and cannot do.
And it will be easiest to do this by comparing two aircraft that have at least a relatively similar purpose. Namely - UAVs RQ-4 Global Hawk and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, which for the sake of simplicity I will hereinafter refer to as "Hawk" and "Hawkeye", respectively.
Let's take a look at such an interesting indicator as the mass of an empty aircraft. For the Hawk it is 6 kg, while the Hawkai is much more - 781 kg.
Of course, it should be borne in mind that a known part of the Hokai's mass is intended to support the life of its crew (five people, including two pilots and three operators). This includes oxygen supplies, armchairs, an onboard galley, a toilet, an air conditioner ... Obviously, the Global Hawk does not need any of this.
But still (even with the minus of the above), the Hawkai turns out to be noticeably heavier than the Hawk. This means that it carries a larger amount of equipment, or its more powerful samples. Of course, someone might think that life support systems take up the lion's share of the plane's mass. But this is not the case. And the point is this.
The Global Hawk is equipped with the HISAR integrated surveillance and reconnaissance system. It is a simplified and cheaper version of the ASARS-2 complex installed on the famous American U-2 “Dragon Lady” reconnaissance aircraft. As you know, the U-2 is a manned aircraft. However, the empty weight of the latest versions of the Lady is only 7 kg. That is, the difference with the Hawk is not to say that significant.
Onboard radio electronic equipment (avionics)
Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to compare the capabilities of the Global Hawk and Hawkai avionics, due to the lack of publicly available technical characteristics of this equipment. Nevertheless, some general conclusions can still be drawn.
The Hawk's HISAR includes a powerful electro-optical camera, infrared sensors, and, of course, a radar (alas, completely unclear characteristics). It is usually indicated that this radar is capable of scanning and detecting moving targets within a radius of 100 km. At the same time, it is possible to observe with a resolution of 6 meters behind a strip 37 km wide and 20 to 110 km long. And in a special mode, the radar provides a resolution of 1,8 meters over an area of 10 square meters. km.
There are more questions than answers. It is indicated that the Hoka radar is designed to monitor ground objects. But does this mean that he cannot control the airspace? Does the 100 km radius apply exclusively to ground targets? Or also to the air? Is this radar adapted to work in a difficult jamming environment?
But what is known for certain is that the Americans themselves are not positioning ASARS-2 as the latest surveillance and reconnaissance complex. It was created back in the 80s of the last century, although since then it has undergone several significant modernizations.
Much less is known about the newest version of the Hawaiian than we would like. The basis of its avionics is the latest AN / APY-9 active phased array radar.
Lockheed Martin (with typical American modesty) declares about it as the best "flying" radar in the world. However, it may very well be that in this particular case, the Americans are absolutely right. It is specifically noted that the AN / APY-9 combines the advantages of mechanical and electronic scanning and is capable of operating in difficult jamming environments.
The adaptation of such a difficult task as the detection of cruise missiles against the background of various underlying surfaces (sea and land) is also regularly mentioned, and in some cases a distance of 260 km is mentioned. Again, it is not clear under what conditions? And the EPR of goals remains outside the brackets.
But in any case, it all looks much more weighty than
"Radius of 100 km" and "observation with a resolution of 6 meters behind a strip 37 km wide and 20 to 110 km long"
for the Hawk radar.
In general, it should be assumed that the capabilities of the AN / APY-9 Hokai are significantly higher than those of the Hoka radar.
Hawkeye has a highly sophisticated AN / ALQ-217 signal intelligence station. The value of this device can hardly be overestimated.
The thing is that many readers of "VO" consider AWACS aircraft in general and "Hawkeye" in particular just as a flying radar, the capabilities of which are determined by the functionality of the radar installed on it. But it is not so. Or rather, not at all.
The Hawkeye has very powerful electronic intelligence equipment. We can even say that its radar is more likely a means of additional reconnaissance of targets and illumination of the situation in battle. That is, a Hawkeye with the radar off on patrol is a completely normal phenomenon. He will first identify targets by passive means and only then turn on the radar to clarify the situation. Unlike the Hawkeye, the Hawk does not have such a station on a regular basis. Although it is possible, of course, that some equipment can be installed on it as a payload.
What else? "Hawkeye" has equipment for identification "friend or foe". I am not aware of the installation of such equipment on the Hawk. Undoubtedly, the Hawk has an advantage in visual aids - an optoelectronic camera, infrared sensors ... And all this is necessary and important for conducting reconnaissance in certain conditions, but it is unlikely to be too useful for long-range sea reconnaissance purposes.
In general, the picture looks like this: "Hawk" carries a simplified and cheaper version of not the newest reconnaissance system, adapted primarily to search for ground targets. The newest Hawkeye probably has the world's best "air" complex of active and passive electronic reconnaissance. And, as far as one can understand, no upgrades of the Hoka ("dancing with a tambourine") can even remotely bring the capabilities of the Hoka closer to the Hokai.
The cost of the latest versions of the Hawk was somewhat reduced - without R&D costs, this UAV costs the budget about $ 140 million. But in certain modifications it can cost more.
The cost of the Hawaiian is unknown to me.
But Japan, having ordered a large batch of these aircraft, purchased the first four for $ 633 million.
Thus, it can be stated that the prices of Hoka and Hokai are quite comparable.
Does all of the above mean that the Hawk is useless? And it would be better for the Americans to customize the same "Hokai" or specialized radio intelligence aircraft? Yes, it never happened.
The Hawk undoubtedly has its own tactical niche. Let its complex of equipment be inferior to that of the Hokai. But on the other hand, it is quite suitable for solving a number of important tasks of reconnaissance activities carried out over land.
Moreover, its flight range (or time spent in the air) is not just significant - it is many times greater than that of the Hawkeye. The latter has a practical range of just over 2 km, while the Hawk has as much as 500 km (the early and lighter modifications had as much as 22 km!).
Yes, of course, the Hawkeye can be refueled in flight, but that is completely different. And his crew needs rest and sleep. Unlike the Hawk, which can be operated by several replaceable "crews".
And at sea?
Let's imagine that we have an RQ-4 Global Hawk at our disposal and the task is to reveal the location of an enemy AUG, which has an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye at its disposal. What happens in this case?
Obviously, we'll send our Hawk on a search. Since he does not have an RTR station, he will have to turn on the radar in the search mode. So the Hawk will be very quickly detected by passive electronic reconnaissance means.
However, if it suddenly turns out that at the time of the arrival of the Hawk the radar of the Hawk will operate in an active mode, then the Hawk will detect the Hawk beforehand. Simply because its radar is more perfect and more powerful. Then the order will be transmitted from the Hokai to the fighters accompanying it. And the UAV will be destroyed before it can detect something other than the AUG - an enemy air patrol.
In total, $ 140 million will be lost for no reason at all. Well, at least the crew will survive.
And if an RTR station is installed on the UAV?
In this case, alas, events will develop exactly according to the scenario described above: they will be shot down without benefit for the cause. The bottom line is that a manned aircraft can maintain a radio silence mode, then it will not be so easy to detect it by means of RTR. But the UAV, alas, is a radiating object - in order to transmit the intelligence it received to the ground, it needs a very powerful transmitter capable of pumping at least 50 Mbps.
In theory, of course, it is possible to launch the UAV in a non-radiating mode, "ordering" it to start transmitting only in case of detection of enemy forces. But in practice, this will not work for one simple reason - even having an RTR station, a UAV in life will not figure out which of the objects it detected is an enemy combat aircraft, and which is a civilian liner flying away from the combat area. Or where is the enemy destroyer, and where is the neutral bulk carrier.
Because of this, the UAV initially loses in opposition to the passive means of RTR to a manned aircraft. To whom, in order to understand what he sees and hears, he does not need to transmit anything to anyone, violating the radio silence mode.
And if you put a radar from the "Hawkeye" on the UAV?
It's possible. And the RTR station can be “plugged in” without any problems. More precisely, there will be only one problem - the size of such a UAV will be comparable to a manned aircraft. This means that in terms of flight time / range, alas, too. But the cost, most likely, will go off scale - and is it necessary then to fence the garden with the UAV?
The main disadvantage of the idea of using UAVs in long-range sea reconnaissance
It consists in the fact that not a single American military man, being in his right mind and sober memory, will never go to use either the Hawkai or the Hawk in the zone of enemy domination. aviation.
Both the Hawkeye and the Hawk must operate strictly under the protection of fighters. Exceptions are of course possible. For example, when there are hostilities against an enemy of the level of the Syrian barmaley. But in the event of a conflict with a more or less advanced power that has its own air force, both Hawkeye and Hawk will “work” exclusively under cover. And nothing else!
An attempt to send a single AWACS aircraft for reconnaissance unaccompanied into the zone of action of enemy aircraft will lead to an obvious and predictable result - it will be shot down there without any benefit to the sender. With UAVs of similar purpose, of course, the same will happen.
Send UAVs under cover of fighters? And where to get them somewhere in remote sea areas? It turns out that we need our own aircraft carriers.
But if this is so, then preference should be given not to UAV AWACS, but to conventional manned aircraft of a similar purpose. Indeed, in the event of an air battle, a manned AWACS aircraft will perfectly act as a "flying headquarters". But the UAV for this will have to "merge" gigabytes of information "on the ground." And so - to lead the battle from afar. And all this is much less reliable.
In addition, this approach loses the main advantage of the UAV - the long patrol time. What's the use of it if you still have to cover it with manned fighters with a very limited time in the air?
What if instead of one UAV we send a hundred?
Undoubtedly, the idea of “bombarding the enemy with UAV carcasses” looks quite picturesque. People will not die in this case? And the ditched technology - why feel sorry for it? And what if the enemy will shoot down ninety-nine UAVs, if the hundredth still reaches and gives us the information we need!
All this talk is absolutely correct, if we forget about the economic aspect. And the numbers are relentless - a hundred Hawks cost $ 14 billion. In other words, more expensive than the newest aircraft carrier Gerald D. Ford.
That is, just in order to detect an enemy aircraft carrier, you need to spend more than it costs. But discovering is only half the battle. We must also destroy it. Why do you need a bunch of ships, planes, missiles ...
This, in fact, is the problem of palliatives in military affairs. When you calculate the costs of a seemingly very inexpensive and effective method of destroying enemy aircraft carriers, you realize that your own aircraft carrier fleet will cost much less.
Of course, someone will now say that due to lower wages and other things, we will be able to build a Hawk-type UAV at a lower cost than the Americans. It's right. But then, for the same reasons, can we build an aircraft carrier cheaper than they?
Do you need a UAV at sea?
Very much even needed. For example, since May 2018, the Americans have been using the MQ-4C Triton, created on the basis of the same Hawk.
This UAV received both an electronic reconnaissance station and an AFAR, but the latter had very moderate characteristics. The English-language wiki, for example, claims to be able to locate 360 degrees on a course, scanning 5200 square kilometers in one cycle. It sounds, of course, weighty. But if we recall the formula for the area of a circle, it turns out that the range of this "superradar" is about 40 km ... By the way, even though the "Triton" is cheaper than the "Hawk", the price tag still "bites" - 120 million dollars.
The question arises - why did the US Navy surrender such a UAV at all?
The answer is very simple - the Americans plan to use it to solve a number of tasks of patrol aircraft. That is, no one is going to send "Triton" in splendid isolation towards the enemy's naval strike group. But to check huge areas for the presence of submarines - why not?
The radar is needed for "non-traditional" search. Since in some cases a submarine, following under water, can still leave some wave trail on the surface. RTR station - will keep track of whether someone is entering a communication session. Of course, the Triton will not replace anti-submarine aircraft. But it will be able to perform a number of their functions. Also "Triton" will be useful in carrying out amphibious operations, performing reconnaissance for the marines. And he is quite capable of a number of other tasks.
In other words, UAV the fleet important and needed. But they are not a "magic wand" for all occasions. They certainly have their own niche. And we will definitely need to develop this direction. But you should not set them tasks that they cannot solve.
In the next article, we will talk about projects of specialized UAV carriers. That is to say - aircraft carriers equipped exclusively with unmanned aerial vehicles.
To be continued ...