Your report (Flight International, 10-16 September) on US Navy plans for a mix of manned and unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft accurately described where that service is headed.

Although the case for unmanned vehicles (airborne or otherwise) has been overstated by proponents of military "transformation", maritime surveillance is one mission where such systems clearly make sense.

There is no longer a compelling reason why human crews and complex, maintenance-intensive airframes need to be dedicated to routine surveillance. Such missions typically involve repetitive patrols of open ocean that readily lend themselves to automation. If the navy can identify unmanned vehicles with the requisite endurance, payload and reliability to do the job, then reserving human crews for more dynamic activities will be the cost-effective course.

Global Hawk at present appears to be the only unmanned airframe that satisfies navy needs. But even this has its limitations, so manned aircraft are likely to remain a critical part of the mix in maritime patrol for the foreseeable future.

Loren Thompson

Lexington Institute

Arlington, Virginia, USA

Source: Flight International