This post has been updated to include a comment from Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.).
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will be “almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly,” signaling key assumptions in the Navy’s aviation future as the service prepares to develop follow-ons to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
“Unmanned systems, particularly autonomous ones, have to be the new normal in ever-increasing areas,” Mabus said.
For example, as good as it is, and as much as we need it and look forward to having it in the fleet for many years, the F-35 should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly.”
To address the emerging role unmanned weapon systems, Mabus announced a new deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for unmanned systems and a new Navy staff position — alongside warfare directorates like surface and air warfare — N-99.
The positions were created “so that all aspects of unmanned – in all domains – over, on and under the sea and coming from the sea to operate on land – will be coordinated and championed,” Mabus said.
Unmanned aerial vehicles are currently part of the Navy’s N2/N6 Information Dominance portfolio as primarily information, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform while undersea and surface unmanned systems are owned by a myriad of agencies.
“Creating a senior post focused on unmanned aviation is an important recognition by the Navy that this technology will do much to determine the service’s future and requires senior leadership within the Department to ensure its successful utilization,” said House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee chair Rep Randy Forbes (R-Va.) in a statement to USNI News.
“The future of the carrier air wing is linked with the development of an unmanned system able to execute long-range, penetrating strike missions in anti-access environments. I am hopeful that whoever fills this new post will take a holistic, strategic look at the Navy’s unmanned portfolio and be a strong advocate for that vision moving forward.”
Unlike the Air Force, the Navy doesn’t not currently have armed UAVs and is currently developing a carrier UAV — Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS — which would contain the service’s first planned unmanned strike platform.
The UCLASS development program is planned to operate under the current ISR centric E-2 Hawkeye command structure.
The remarks at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space 2015 Exposition also comes as the Navy is preparing for studies for the service’s next generation fighter effort — F/A-XX — that will replace the existing Super Hornets.
The planned fiscal year 2016 analysis of alternatives (AoA) for F/A-XX will weigh a myriad of options that could translate to a capability that might not necessarily be a single aircraft but a could include a multi-faceted manned and unmanned capability, USNI News understands.
Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert said earlier this year that F/A-XX will likely be optionally manned.
Though Mabus mentioned strike — which the service defines as attacking land and surface targets — he did not address fighter on fighter air warfare that would be a different capability set.