Navy in Dayton: A top admiral says drones are future of aviation

By Barrie Barber


A top Navy leader says unmanned aerial vehicles are an “imperative” for the future of naval aviation.

Rear Adm. John R. Haley, a two-star admiral and commander of the Naval Air Force Atlantic fleet in Norfolk, Va., said he not only sees a future for UAVs on aircraft carriers, “I see an imperative for it in the future.”

Haley is the highest-ranking naval leader in Dayton this week for the first-ever “Navy Week” in the Gem City from June 13-19.

In an interview, he talked about issues facing the sea-going naval aviation fleet, training future sailors, and the tragic death of a Blue Angels pilot, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, in a June 2 plane crash in Tennessee. The flight team canceled an appearance at this weekend’s air show at Dayton International Airport.

The Blue Angels are “hurting,” Haley said. “It’s a tight team, as you would expect,” he said.

“We’re looking at all the evidence and doing our investigation and then as soon as we can complete that investigation we’ll get the Blue Angels flying again,” he said.

Carrier drone

Flight test demonstrations of the Northrop Grumman X-47B in recent years showed a UAV could autonomously take-off and land on an aircraft carrier, something the admiral described as a “force multiplier.”

“If you ask a naval aviator about unmanned drones a lot of them will say, ‘Oh, that’s a threat, they’re going to put us out of business,’ or something like that. And I think folks that think that way are pretty myopic,” he said. “…It’s a force multiplier and it’s doing so without putting another guy in harm’s way and also allowing you to link (sensor) systems together.”

The Navy could use a UAV as an aerial refueling tanker at sea and to hoist surveillance sensors into the skies, among future uses, he said.

While Dayton is an Air Force town as home of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, it has a small contingent of Navy sailors and scientists.

The Naval Medical Research Unit at Wright-Patterson has collaborated with the Air Force to solve oxygen generation problems on both the Air Force’s F-22 and the Navy’s F/A-18 fighter jets, Haley said.

The Navy is in the midst of fixing those problems on F-18s, a process that could take about a year to a year and a half to complete, he estimated. Oxygen loss-related incidents in the cockpit have been cut in half in the past year, he said.

The naval research unit relocated to Wright-Patterson from Pensacola, Fla., as part of the base realignment and closure process a decade ago. The move, Haley said, has “reaped huge benefits.”

“We’re getting a lot of benefit, both Air Force and Navy, from the research that’s being done from the units out there,” he said.

Next generation fighter

Like the Air Force and the Marine Corps, the Navy has waited years longer than initially scheduled for a carrier-based version of the Joint Strike Fighter. The Navy has extended the life of and bought additional F-18 fighters to fill a fighter gap. The F-35’s development has exceeded expectations and cost estimates for the services, but Haley was confident naval aviation will glean lessons from the Marine Corps and the Air Force, both of which will fly the jet in operations before the Navy will.

The Marines fly the F-35B today to replace the aging AV-8B Harrier jump jet, and the Air Force expects to start to fly the land-based F-35A in operations late this year to replace the F-16 fighter and A-10 ground attack plane. The Navy will fly the F-35C starting in 2019.

“I would tell you that naval aviation is actually in a pretty good spot with the F-35,” Haley said. “… We’re going to be able to take those lessons and incorporate them in the airplane. Is the airplane perfect? No, it’s not perfect, but it’s going to be a great benefit.”

For all the hardware and equipment issues, Haley said training sailors is a key focus, too.

“… Sailors have to be better trained in a shorter period of time,” he said. “It has to be relevant to what we’re doing and they have to be ready for combat when we get there.”

The Naval Academy graduate, once an exchange student at the Air Force Academy, said Ohio’s educational system makes fertile territory to draw future sailors, even in an Air Force town like Dayton.

“I think that this area is very cognizant of the Navy more so than most landlocked Air Force-centric areas and so I have no problem coming into the land of Air Force and trying to recruit some great Americans to come into the Navy,” he said.

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