No one knows his classified military hardware like my former colleague Bill Sweetman on Defense Technology International magazine’s "Ares" blog, but I’m going to stick my neck out here and disagree with him.
Last week, Bill wrote on Ares about the existence of a quasi-classified new sensor called the Littoral Surveillance Radar Surveillance (LSRS). I call it quasi-classified because the sensor’s existence is a public fact (see here), but its capability and purpose are kept vigorously secret by the US Navy and contractors Boeing and Raytheon.
Bill wrote that the LSRS is a good fit for the Boeing 737-800-derived P-8A Poseidon, the submarine-hunting twin jet that remains in development. That’s the part where I disagree.
Or, more precisely, that’s the part where navy Captain Mike Moran disagrees. Moran is the deputy program manager for developing the P-8A fleet. I interviewed him today in Seattle to catch up on the P-8A program. I asked him if the navy was interested in the new radar sensor for the P-8A.
His response: "No. Not at this time." As Moran answered my follow-up questions, it became clear that "not at this time" really meant "never".
Moran’s dismissal of LSRS rings of truth, if only because the navy is adamant about focusing the P-8A around the mission of hunting for submarines. It’s not clear precisely what the scope of the LSRS capabilities are, but all the public evidence indicates that it is optimized to search for targets on the water’s surface, not underneath it — a la the P-8A.
So I’ll not only boldly disagree with Bill, but I’ll up the ante with a bit of my own speculation. The sensor may not be a good fit for the P-8A’s mission profile, but it could be an excellent candidate for the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) fleet. BAMS will be a fleet of unmanned or optionally-manned aircraft primarily tasked with detecting and identifying surface vessels, which is really what the LSRS is all about. BAMS is usually thought of as an open-ocean-type capability, but perhaps LSRS could expand its competency into the littoral regions.
Or, well, I’m completely wrong. Darn these quasi-classified programs! They give you just enough to make you curious, but not enough to understand why they exist in the first place. (Hmm … sounds very Catholic, doesn’t it?)