Everyone Must Get Droned!

The US Navy, not to be outdone by the US Army or the US Air Force or the US Marines or the CIA, has unveiled their own drone. They designate the entire drone program as BAMS, an acronym meaning Broad Area Maritime Surveillance. And the name of this US Navy drone is Triton, reflecting the heritage of Neptune’s trident.

This is not a Global Hawk. It is a Triton although it looks like a Hawk. And this isn’t the BAMS-D which crashed. It just looks like it. This is a plain old BAMS. US Navy BAMS Triton drone unveiled in June of 2012. Manufactured by Northrop Grumman. Photo courtesy of US Navy and Northrop Grumman.

According to Defense AOL:

Along with BAMS’s flying range of more than 9,550 miles and endurance of more than 24 hours, the key to its dramatically expanded ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) capability is a new Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar Northrop has developed. By combining electronic scanning with mechanical rotation, this Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS) gives BAMS a 360-degree “field of regard,” meaning it can “see” everything below in any direction for hundreds of miles, rather than merely scanning toward one side or the other.

Triton can also fly at altitudes as high as 60,000 feet which is high indeed. Most long-range airliners fly at an average altitude of 36,000 feet.

This all sounds very cool and we are assured that the Triton is nothing like the Global Hawk even though it uses the same airframe and design as the Global Hawk and looks like the Global Hawk. Fortunately, says Northrup Grumman, while the Triton looks identical, except for the words “US Navy” instead of “US Air Force,” it’s different, very different, than the Global Hawk. Airframe is re-enforced for one thing. Lots of different computer stuff, too.

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, CA – The Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is used to provide Air Force and joint battlefield commanders near real-time, high-resolution intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance imagery. The 12th Reconnaissance Squadron here is the home unit for the Global Hawk mission. (US Air Force by Staff Sgt. Timothy Jenkins)

They really have almost nothing in common. This a relief to know since the US Air Force recently grounded and mothballed all their Global Hawks because they didn’t perform to specifications. Further, says the Air Force, the venerable U-2 spy plane of Cold War fame can get any intelligence the Hawk can get and the U-2 is far less expensive to operate. So the Air Force will keep the U-2 flying. (The Air Force didn’t do their math correctly Northrop Grumman says.)

The US Air Force U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft first flew in 1955 and was developed by Lockheed Martin at the famous Skunk Works site. The aircraft provides continuous surveillance day and night and in all weathers. The aircraft can gather surveillance and signals intelligence data in real time and can be deployed anywhere in the world. (US Air Force photo)

This debate has turned into what our British cousins call “a bun fight,” which has continued at an accelerated pace after the bit of trouble which befell a BAMS-D Triton on a test flight in Maryland on 12 June 2012. The trouble? It crashed. And not a controlled crash. The Triton stopped responding to remote commands and ran into the ground and sort of, you know, exploded.

No need for anyone to be concerned. This was a strictly routine maintenance flight the Navy said. Nothing out of the ordinary . Do not be alarmed. It’s exactly like a regular plane crash except there is no in the plane to be killed. “Smoke billows from the site where an aircraft crashed near Nanticoke, MD, on Monday, June 11, 2012. The Navy says the unmanned aircraft on a routine maintenance flight crashed on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and there are no injuries. Photo: The Daily Times, Keith Goldsborough/AP”

However, as pointed out repeatedly, the “D” as any idiot knows, means “Demonstrator,” which isn’t the same as the regular BAMS. The regular production model of the BAMS Triton which looks exactly like the Global Hawk isn’t a Global Hawk and the BAMS-D Triton which crashed isn’t the same as the BAMS Triton. Got it?

[Source: Defense AOL. Image courtesy of the Northrop Grumman, US Air Force Website, US Air Force Website, and Beaumont Enterprise.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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