Thursday, April 17, 2014

UCLASS Woes and Wows.


The National Defense Industrial Association's online magazine had a recent article titled

Confusion Surrounds Navy’s Carrier-Based Drone. 

It focuses on the Navy's already disorganized and perplexing acquisition program for their first carrier-based unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) or system (UAS.)  The X-74B was the topic of a post here last year, when the aircraft made Naval Aviation history by becoming the first UAS to successfully conduct launch and recovery operations aboard a carrier.  However, that was more of a laudatory post, offering a bit of praise to the program.  Today's post?  Not so much.

I was a little critical of the Navy's glacier-like embrace of UAS technology, especially considering my own support of the effort after my squadron flew a special surveillance aircraft over Iraq in 2003.

Two other OIF highlights stand out. A VS-29 aircraft was equipped with the Surveillance System Upgrade, or SSU, a one-of-a-kind, computerized, carrier-based intelligence gathering asset. The SSU had the capability to stream real-time video from a camera or from the aircraft's synthetic aperture radar to the ship or to a unique mobile ground station. With a range of more than 150 miles, SSU quickly became the primary choice for aerial surveillance in theater.

The Navy decided not to move the SSU towards an official program of record, stating that our aircraft would be replaced in 10 years by UAVs.  It was actually closer to five years as the Predator, Reaper, and Global Hawk programs really took off, literally and figuratively.  However, those were Army and Air Force Programs.  The Navy still hasn't picked up the Naval ISR mission in full-force, with the Boeing/Insitu Scan-Eagle only operated on a few Amphibs and Destroyers, and not permanently.  The Air Force was essentially forced to embrace UAVs due to the tremendous wartime appetite for ISR, but they now seem to be all-in, even making attempts to ensure UAS pilots have the same opportunities as as manned aircraft pilots.

Before I retired, I was smart enough to realize that UAVs were not going away anytime soon so I figured that if I couldn't beat 'em, I'd join 'em.  So I got myself involved in the Navy's STUAS-Tier II program to help get some UAV creds on my resume.  I applied for a Program Manager position with General Atomics Aeronautical System Inc. and made it through the fifth and final interview before the Navy called to offer me my current position.

I feel that the Navy was overly protective of the manned-aircraft concept, and slow to get the UCLASS program off the ground.  It still is in my opinion.  After all, there are great big fat carrier aircraft programs and rice bowls to protect.  While the technological challenges for UAS ops from a carrier are huge, the US Defense Industrial base is very good at doing huge, and the intro photo proves that.  So why the slow roll in continuing the program?

Meanwhile, after determining that the X-74B design won't meet future requirements, the Navy can't decide whether it wants a low-risk design that is affordable and easy to produce, or one that pushes the technological envelope.  And as to the mission-set for it, we can't decide whether we want a high-end strike aircraft, or an ISR bird designed to operate in permissive airspace.

"One industry insider involved in the program said that the Navy had altered UCLASS specifications throughout the preliminary design review stage."

“We’re looking forward to [a request for proposals] in the hope that it’s going to finally clarify the requirements, clarify what kind of schedule the Navy is expecting, and we’re also looking for some clarity in the source selection criteria. ... Those are all question marks that have yet to be answered,” he said.

The Navy in March released a notice that a draft RFP was forthcoming, and industry officials predicted requirements would be in hand by the end of the month. In early April, Rear Adm. Mathias Winter, the service’s program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons, announced that it would be released later in the month but would not be publicly available.  (Not publicly available = classified)

From left to right- USS Freedom and USS Independence
Constantly shifting requirements (as well as under-whelming and underfunded mission packages) is how we got into the trouble with the Littoral Combat Ship, problems with cost, schedule, and performance problems that embarrassed the Navy, made Congress highly critical of the program, incur great risk to the Navy's entire shipbuilding budget, and continue to fleece the U.S. taxpayer. The good news is that all those problems continue, with no easy solutions on the horizon.  Doesn't that just make you sooooo happy after you've all just paid your taxes?

I just don't see ISR being the primary mission for the UCLASS.  Since when has the Navy fully embraced the ISR mission?  They eliminated or gutted every ISR platform the Navy has fielded in the past 50 years.   The mission of the aircraft carrier is to fly overland and break stuff, to drop bombs if you will.  Not to cover the flight deck in ISR assets.  Satellites and USAF UAVs tend to do the bulk of the ISR mission for the Navy.  I think the mission confusion, or actually the downplaying of the strike capability of the UCLASS, is because of recent distaste with UAS strike warfare, and the media being hyper-focused on the belief that UASs cause too much collateral damage.  Manned aircraft are responsible for far more of that than UASs though.

To be fair, the Navy will continue to use the X-74B to test integrated carrier operations.

The Navy wants to see how it will operate with manned aircraft on the flight deck and in the airspace, how quickly it can clear the landing area with a plane coming in behind it, as well as other things like folding its wings and retracting its tail hook, Capt. Beau Duarte told reporters.

Coincidentally, LTjg Beau Duarte and I were flight school classmates oh-so-long ago.  Now he's the Program Manager for PMA-268, the Navy's Carrier Unmanned Aviation Program Office.  Seems like not all Navy leadership is hesitant to put the WSO and Big Time out of a job.

I'm glad the program is progressing, and it's likely in good hands under CAPT Duarte, but my crystal ball still sees the Navy mucking it up- and a program that is way over budget, behind schedule, and with an aircraft that isn't performing to a level commensurate with our tax dollars.  Time will tell though.  I'm hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Well I Thought It Was Funny

Snapped this photo out at Lemoore in The WSO's squadron office.

I'm betting this was the Scheduling Officer's desk.

And yes LUSH, you're right, I should have shut the damn flash off.

Live and learn.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Boys and Girls, Put Your Pencils Down...

...we have a winner!

To all who shall see these presents, greetings:

Know ye, that from this day forth,

the gestures and gyrations as

represented in the photo above

shall henceforth and forthwith be known as

"Air Wrenching"

Tip o' the hat to The Monkeywrangler.

Who has been bestowed with 100 Shrute Bucks. Which has been duly registered in the The Shrute Buck Vault and Redemption Center. (Details explained therein...)

But What Should I Call It?

Now pilots have always used their hands to describe a certain tactic or move when explaining aerial combat to someone else.

The Germans did it...

Dolfo Galland Hand Flying
We did it...

John C. Meyer Hand Flying

Former aircrew types do it...

Pinch and Lex Hand Flying

Even if they're not pilots, they do it...

Yours Truly and Tuna Hand Flying

I suppose it's somewhat similar to playing the air guitar?

Heck, Eric Clapton himself has done that!

Now as a retired aircraft maintenance type, I always feel a bit awkward about "hand flying". While I know the basics of flying and something about air combat, I've never actually flown an aircraft for any length of time. And that was a long time ago and I could barely keep the bird straight and level. (It's harder than you'd think!)

So I gave it a bit of thought while flying out to Sandy Eggo. I mean what could we former maintainers do to explain something to non-maintainers? Also, what could we do to look "cool" when getting together with other maintainers?

So I thought, what does aircraft maintenance actually look like?

Vertical aircraft panel securing

Horizontal aircraft panel securing

Hhmm, the hands play a key role, don't they?

So I came up with something. ORPO1 (a fellow maintainer) and I demonstrated it to The WSO while onboard the USS Ronald Reagan recently.

The Sarge and ORPO1 demonstrate...

I think it looks cool. Your mileage may vary...

But a name, I need a name for this.

Any suggestions?

And yes, "acting like idiots" has already been suggested.

And rejected.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bubbles and The Winnebago

A Winnebago, not the Winnebago
As many of you know, on the 9th of April I had the opportunity to spend a day at sea on the USS Ronald Reagan, CVN-76, America's Flagship.

Now I've ridden a carrier before so it wasn't all that new, but it was different. The first time was with The Nuke, who (being part of ship's company) knew lots of stuff about the ship itself. But, as she belonged to the Reactor Department, she spent a lot of time actually on duty during that cruise. So we spent a bit of time on our own (The Missus Herself was also along). Mostly sleeping in The Nuke's stateroom.

Now this time I went as a guest of The WSO, who is most certainly not part of ship's company but is a member of "CAG 2", Reagan's Air Wing. Specifically she is a member of the finest squadron in the entire United States Navy, VFA-2, the Bounty Hunters, callsign Bullet. (Not that I'm prejudiced mind you, but Big Time - and others - may have a different viewpoint!)

Anyhoo. When we weren't up on the flight deck watching the (ahem) "exercise", nor on the hangar deck chowing down, we could be found in VFA-2's Ready Room hanging out with some of the Naval Aviators and Weapons Systems Officers of this fine squadron.

Now at sea with us were: Bubbles, BTM*, Lennie, Korndog and Bobo**. Bobo's buddy Heywood (or Sherwood, or Haystack, or something like that) was also there. Now I can't be positive but I'm pretty sure he's Navy. Probably an aviator, I'll present some evidence to support that shortly. (He had the "look" and "attitude" of an aviator, that's for sure.)

Those are all callsigns by the way, well except Heywood (or Driftwood, or Woodhaven, or something like that). The only one I needed to have explained to me was "Lennie". When I queried The WSO on that one, she said, think Steinbeck.

"Of Mice and Men", she said.

"Ah, wakarimasu", I said.

Now I first met Korndog at the patching ceremony I went to out at Lemoore last August. As a matter of fact, he was patched that day. But back then, he was known as "Tight Pants." No, I didn't ask why. I didn't want to know why. But as an FNG he did a fine job of keeping my beer mug filled.

A good man is Harry.

Two other members of VFA-2 I must mention are Frodo and Gandalf. Seriously.

Now Frodo is because the dude is really short. Gandalf came to the squadron at around the same time. Someone said that Frodo needed a friend. Hence, Gandalf. (FWIW, Gandalf is actually a female aviator. Go figure.)

You can't make this stuff up.

Now The WSO had told me about Bubbles before we went out to the boat. She said that he was looking forward to meeting me as he had an interest in old warbirds. Like the Phantom. She also told me that he looked like a "young Pete Townshend". I'll let you be the judge of that.

Damn! She may be on to something here...


Bubbles and I got along famously, turns out that before becoming a Naval Officer, he was a Sergeant, in the Army. We non-commissioned officers (current and former) have a way of getting along. Besides which, he is an insanely funny guy. Very cheerful too.

Can you guess how he got his callsign now?

"Bubbles" describes him well. It's also mildly insulting, so it's a perfect callsign.

So we're hanging out in the Ready Room, laughing it up as I listen to their lies sea stories. When Heywood (I think) says he needs to use the head. Bubbles tells him -

"Take a left out in the p-way. The Winnebago is down that way."

With a puzzled look on my face, I ask, "Winnebago?"

Yes, Bubbles explained, they call it the Winnebago because "one does not sh!t in the Winnebago" due to the poor ventilation in that species of RV. Sort of a "Prime Directive" for the Bullets.

Facsimile of The Winnebago

Now for some reason, this particular head on the Reagan has small holes in the bulkhead behind the stalls. Holes which vent directly into VFA-86's Ready Room. And the 'Winders would prefer that people not crap in that head. Seems they can't abide the smell. Who can blame them? So, the Bullets call that head, "The Winnebago."

Now shortly after Heywood (Woodhead?) left, we headed out as well. Our route to the flight deck led us right past the Winnebago. So I figured I would make use of that facility. As soon as I swung the door open to the Winnebago, it was obvious someone had violated the Prime Directive.

Yup, someone took a sh!t in the Winnebago.

So I cried foul. Then I heard a voice from inside the Winnebago, "It was an emergency!"

As I kind of laughed at that, the voice continued, "besides, this isn't MY boat."

Thinking back on it, I'm pretty sure it was Heywood (Hoe-down?). It sounded like him. And I was pretty sure he was Navy. I told him, "Just tell the Bullets you intentionally crapped in here. To mark your territory, or something."

We both got a chuckle out of that.

As we were mocking the Bullets (well, mostly he was), I thought "He knows this shtick far too well. He must be an aviator." Couldn't prove it one way or the other though.

Now later in the day, Bubbles said he had to use the head. I laughed and said, "Don't take too long or we'll accuse you of sh!tting in the Winnebago."

Well he was gone for quite some time. When he returned to the Ready Room, I kind of accused him of violating the Prime Directive.

He laughed and said, "Nah, I went over to the Taj Mahal."


Again, puzzled look.

Bubbles laughed and explained that there was this really fancy head which most people stayed away from (perhaps it "belongs" to the Admiral's staff). So it was always nice, clean and apparently very desirable. Therefore, "The Taj Mahal." The guys who normally use it were ashore that day. Not there to defend their fiefdom as it were. So fair game for Bubbles.

Apparently the Admiral's private head is also really, really nice. Even nicer than the Taj Mahal.

I think Bubbles has that one on his bucket list. His Holy Grail. As it were...

* BTM = uh, it stands for Big Tittie Mike. And yes his parents know what BTM stands for. His father finds it amusing, his Mom, not so much. I forget how he got BTM for a callsign. I was laughing too hard to pay attention. Best part is, his name is actually Matt, but people call him "Mike" because of the callsign. Annoys him it does. Again, a perfect callsign.

** I had originally had this as "Bubba", The WSO let me know that it's actually "Bobo". Corrections were made, those responsible have been sacked.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Ride

The Old AF Sarge and the Old Retired PO1
Sandy Eggo, 09 April 2014
On Board USS Ronald Reagan
After a long trip across the country on Tuesday, a semi-late evening at Shakespeare's that same night and a crack o'dawn awakening on Wednesday, we finally got under way.

The WSO and a couple of retired military types, Yours Truly and my blog-buddy ORPO1 (who has already told his side of things here, in photos, some of which I have stolen borrowed for this and other tales to come) were off to sea on America's Flagship, the USS Ronald Reagan, CVN-76.

I love that lead-in photo, The WSO took it as we were heading out. Best thing about it? You can't tell that ORPO1 and I are "slightly" past our prime. We could still get the job done if we had to, but it would take us longer to recover. Hey, ain't nobody getting any younger!

Yours Truly takes over VFA-2's Ready Room

The WSO checks the schedule.

As the sun rose over Sandy Eggo and the Reagan slipped away from the pier...

The WSO and Yours Truly after checking out the Growler.

Looking aft you can see all of the jets which would launch today.
(Hhmm, how did that pretty lady get in the shot? And why is her husband looking at me like that?)

The Island in the light of a Sandy Eggo morning.

Honors were rendered by us as we steamed past Lex's final resting place.

Once we were out to sea, the fun began!

The Command Group is ready!
(Yours Truly, The WSO and ORPO1)
The crew is ready!
(Yours TrulyThe WSO, Bubbles and Mrs Bubbles)
Standby to launch aircraft!
The Plane Guard helo is airborne.
Launching the Hummer (E-2C Hawkeye of VAW-113)
Rhino launch preparations.
Cat shot!
(VFA-137 Kestrels - "CAG" bird, #00 - Double Nuts)
Buddy refueling.
(Don't tell Big Time!)
Ma Deuce Live Fire Exercise
(M-2 .50 caliber machine gun)
Grand Finale!
The Crew is pleased.
And in the photo (being held by The WSO) is the following, brought along by ORPO1. To honor Hizzoner. As it were.

Did we have a great time that day?

Why yes, yes we did!

More stories to come, here's a teaser:

If I were to say "Bubbles and the Winnebago".

What would you think that means?

It isn't what you think. (The Bullets know!)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bad To The Boneyard

I know this has been covered here before, but this is a pretty cool video I just had to post.  Could be a bit sad, but still cool...

"Commonly referred to as the “Boneyard,” the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., contains about 5,000 retired military aircraft throughout 2,600 acres. Crews at the Boneyard preserve aircraft for possible future use, pull aircraft parts to supply to the field, and perform depot-level maintenance and aircraft regeneration in support of Air Force operations. (U.S. Air Force video/Andrew Arthur Breese)"

Awesome time lapse HD video of the Boneyard in Tucson.

Tail tales.  At least these have another life in them, although as target drones vice fighters. 
If it's not in a museum or on a stick- all the Tomcats are here.

As are the Vikings- possibly awaiting their transformation into Tanker CODs- Link

If the Vipers aren't there yet, they will be soon (assuming the Lightning II ever makes it through development.)

Even the Blues go there.  The Hornets they fly are the oldest in the Fleet so when
they're done with them, nobody else will take 'em except AMARG.
If you haven't been, do what you can to visit.  It can be sort of eerie, sad, but cool at the same time.  Lots of history there.  The Pima Air and Space Museum is nearby and is another chance to see history through 150 aircraft in slightly better condition than the ones across the street, including BUNO 160604- a bird I flew in Japan.  I flew my last flight to Davis-Monthan to drop off Dragonfire 704.  It was a strange day.  The gent that picked us up from the ramp drove us around the boneyard to show us where our bird would join the other Vikings.  He was polite, but I had the feeling that he was polite like a mortician- nice is part of the job, but one that can be a bit morbid to say the least.  Nevertheless, I'd like to go back and find it again someday.

Note:  The video above was part of a larger documentary on "Today's Air Force."