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Maritime Unmanned: From Global Hawk to Triton

29 October 2022

Maritime Unmanned: From Global Hawk to Triton, Ernest Snowden and Robert F. Wood, Jr., 2021, ISBN 9781682477007, 262 pp.

This is a story that is populated with intriguing events about an immensely capable UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) as well as how intense the competition in the aerospace industry is for a major military contract. This is also the story of the engineering conversion (“migration” in industry-speak) of Northrop’s Grumman’s Global Hawk, flown by the U.S. Air Force, to be a strategic UAV for the U.S. Navy as the Triton. Also story where Northrop Grumman, Lockeed Martin, Gulfstream of General Dynamics and General Atomics were all in the same competition.

The United States Navy desired a long endurance, high-altitude UAV and, at the same time, was developing a UAV culture within the Navy. All this began at the turn of the century and transpired over the subsequent twenty years. The designs proposed to be modified for the Navy’s use could not have been more varied but came down to these three systems:

  • Northrop Grumman’s Triton from their Global Hawk—30+ hours endurance / 60,000 feet maximum altitude
  • Lockheed Martin’s and General Atomic’s Mariner from General Atomic’s Reaper—48 hours / 50,000 feet
  • Gulfstream Aerospace’s GV business jet (the C-37 in the USAF and USN)—14 hours / 51,000 feet

Aside from fitting the electric surveillance systems specified by the Navy into the UAV—and much unlike the Air Force UAVs—the Navy required their strategic UAV to be able to descend for positive visual identifications or inspections, and subsequently reascend. The engineering challenge was then to reinforce the airframe, in the case of both the Trident and the Mariner, but not the Gulfstream GV (Also known as the G-Five) as it was a proper aircraft, not the norm of UAV designs of the time.

The authors could not be better for this story since Snowden worked for the Secretary of Defense (in the Research and Engineering Office) as well as Northrop Grumman during the development of Trident. He specialized in analysis of engineering change-orders as well as following the money. Wood was formerly Director of Air Warfare with the Chief of Naval Operations as well as currently consulting with the aerospace and defense industries. What does all this mean? It means the authors know the ways of military aviation procurement, what documentation to look for and where to find it, as well as interpreting the decisions of the three competing companies.

Readers will appreciate the experience and explanations of the authors as the story is intricate, involving legal and lobbying efforts, moves and countermoves, attempts to parlay personal relationships over objective analysis and the usual twisting of words on the Navy’s request for proposal (RFP) to sell a product the Navy did not exactly ask for but what that company could manufacture. To say this story is a maze is like saying the SR-71 could fly fast—there are no adequately descriptive words.

Readers will learn about engineering challenges to make an Air Force UAV into a Navy UAV as each service has common as well as disparate demands for their reconnaissance missions. Also, an education about the procedures, protocols, intricacies and importance of trusted relationships in the industry is eye-oopening, to say the least.

The authors are superbly qualified to tell this story and do so well. The book is complete with notes, citations, bibliography and index to complete the package.

Maritime Unmanned: From Global Hawk to Triton can be obtained from the Naval Institute Press, no need to join—but joining is inexpensive, no requirement for military service and there are significant savings when purchasing from the Naval Institute Press.

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