November 23, 2017

Traditional & Unmanned Aircraft Paired at Pax

unmanned aircraft

Navy and Pentagon leaders gathered in September 2017 to discuss the successful pairing of the P-8 Poseidon aircraft with the unmanned MQ-4C Triton.

“We’re going to learn a lot in the next four years,” said Rear Adm. Trey Wheeler, commander of the Navy’s Patrol Reconnaissance Group, who provided opening remarks and moderated the panel, Poseidon & Triton: Welcome to the Family, the 32nd panel hosted by The Patuxent Partnership and the Association of Naval Aviation Squadron 18.

“It’s a little bit ‘back to the future,’ back to basics, the core things,” said RADM Wheeler, speaking of the tradition of the P-8 and P-3 Orion, which Poseidon replaces.

Shrinking forces after the Cold War ended led to anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft being redirected toward other efforts such as search and rescue and drug enforcement. Nevertheless, antisubmarine warfare remained a core competency, and a mission that drives the P-8 program’s success, RADM Wheeler said.

Panelist Capt. Tony Rossi, the major program manager for the Navy’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (P-3/P-8) program, agreed with the assessment of the Poseidon and Triton anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

“I wouldn’t want to be in a submarine […] You’re out of places to hide,” he said.

Deputy Director of Air Warfare (OPNAV N98B) Angie Knappenberger praised the transition from the P-3 to P-8 and the successful integration of the unmanned MQ-4C into the family of systems. The transition is accommodating both the sunset on respective aircraft in time to “invest in new where it is needed.”

“We’re lock step with you,” said Air Commodore Gary Martin, who serves as air attaché for the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC. “Triton is the key. We have 1,600 nautical miles around Australia and areas in common for defense in Southeast Asia. It’s not just in Australia’s interest.”

“It’s like they’re the 13th squadron,” added Capt. Rossi.

Noting it was only his 15th day on the job as program manager for Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems (MQ-4C Triton), Capt. Daniel Mackin said he nevertheless grasped the importance of the connection to industry.

“You are the partners who make us strong,” Capt. Mackin said.

That strength is reflected in the test squadron at Pax River that has been flying six days a week to demonstrate the Triton’s capabilities, equating to approximately 150 flights and 1,000 flight hours.

“Persistence is the key to seek and find […] We’re partnering with the P-8 for world peace as the collector of truth and distributor of facts,” Capt. Mackin said.

“This capability is based on teaming,” stated Rear Adm. Paul Sohl, commander of the Navy’s Operational Test and Evaluation Force, as he wrapped up the panelists’ individual presentations.

“This is true integrated testing,” he said of how the partnering has evolved testing capability.

During the subsequent question-and-answer period, attendees voiced concern about the ability of the warfighter to parse such a wealth of data.

Panelists unanimously agreed that the ability to filter “useful” data from extraneous, potentially distracting data is largely in place in some domains and remains a priority as the first two Triton aircraft are being prepared for delivery to the fleet.

Attendees also asked the panel if they believed funding was sufficient for the platforms given the numerous and varied budget uncertainties and increased demands.

Ms. Knappenberger conceded that with a multi-domain platform, such as Triton, its budget could suffer from the lack of a single key advocate. But, she added, “When you’re an awesome capability, everyone wants one.”

About The Patuxent Partnership

TPP fosters collaboration and the sharing of knowledge and expertise across a diverse network that includes government, industry, and academia. TPP also supports STEM education and workforce development within the local community including hosting programs of interest to NAVAIR, NAWCAD, and the broader DoD community.

To learn more about The Patuxent Partnerships and its programs, visit its Leader member page.

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