Future of naval aviation bright, admiral says in Va. Beach
Lots of armchair admirals like to opine that in the not-too-distant future, the flight deck of an aircraft carrier will be a lonely place, full of small aircraft operating without any humans aboard. They predict that aviators will no longer climb into cockpits; they’ll program computers to fly, or pilot aircraft remotely at a desk.
Seven actual admirals from the Navy and Coast Guard offered a different assessment Thursday at an aerospace industry conference in Virginia Beach.
Yes, they said, unmanned aircraft will play a huge role in the second century of naval aviation. But humans will toil in cockpits and on flight decks for decades to come, they told the audience at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.
Rear Adm. David Philman said the future is bright for current Navy fliers, with new versions of multiple airframes now in or about to enter the fleet. There’s the E2-D Hawkeye early warning aircraft, the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, updated versions of the H-60 SeaHawk helicopter and, waiting in the wings, the so-called “fifth generation” fighter plane, the F-35.
“If you’re not flying a new aircraft now, you will be soon,” said Philman, the Navy’s director for warfare integration at the Pentagon.
A midshipman from the Naval Academy asked the panelists if he and his classmates might end up in command of squadrons that operate joysticks instead of warplanes.
Rear Adm. Bill Shannon assured the officer-to-be that there will be plenty of work to do with human-operated aircraft. As program officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons, Shannon oversees the development of 15 unmanned platforms. With one exception, he said, none are intended to replace manned aircraft; they are designed to augment existing capabilities. (The exception, he said, is the broad area maritime surveillance program, an unmanned system that will allow the Navy to buy fewer P-8 Poseidons.)