MODERN DAY MARINE NEWS: Navy May Use Well Decks to Launch Drones

By Connie Lee
USS America

Photo: Navy

QUANTICO, Va. — Future well decks on landing helicopter assault ships may be used to launch unmanned aerial systems, defense officials said during a panel discussion Sept. 18.

The Navy has made clear its intention to expand its UAS capability, with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s Planning Guidance document calling for the development of a family of systems.

After decades of dominance at sea, the U.S. military is concerned that great power adversaries like China and Russia could pose a major threat to its forward deployed vessels.

“I see the potential for a small unmanned aircraft launching out from the well deck of a ship and going out to help protect the fleet,” Col. Kurt Schiller, director of the aviation combat element of the Marine Expeditionary Warfare Division, said at the Modern Day Marine Exposition at Quantico, Virginia. A well deck is a hangar-like area that also allows amphibious vehicles and landing craft to dock.

Incorporating this capability would provide the Navy with additional lethality, he noted.

The USS Bougainville, or landing helicopter assault ship-8, will have a well deck reincorporated into its design, unlike its two predecessors, USS America and USS Tripoli. The Navy is currently working to replace its decommissioned Tarawa-class LHAs.

Big deck amphibs like the America can deploy helicopters and F-35B joint strike fighters — manned aircraft which have a short-takeoff and vertical landing capability — from their flight decks.

However, the Bougainville may be the first ship designed with the idea in mind of launching drones from its well deck, said Thomas Rivers, program manager of the amphibious warfare program office.

“This ship is an assault ship,” he said. The service wanted an amphibious vessel with a “joint strike fighter capability, but at the same time bring back the well deck" to provide additional options for deploying forces, he added.

The area would enable ships to carry additional equipment during missions, he noted. Its “utilitarian nature" gives it the ability to launch systems at different depths, he noted.

"When you look at bringing the Marine Corps to the fight, it's not just the Marines themselves, it's all the vehicles and supplies that they need," Rivers said.

Topics: Navy News

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