The secretary of the US Navy, Ray Mabus, has said the F-35 Lightning II “should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly.”
Speaking at the Sea-Air-Space 2015 conference on Wednesday, the secretary said he will “appoint a new Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Unmanned Systems” and “a new office for unmanned, in all domains - over, on and under the sea and coming from the sea to operate on land".
The thinking behind the move to umanned is simple: “with unmanned technology, removing a human from the machine can open up room to experiment with more risk, improve systems faster and get them to the fleet quicker.”
There's also the “New modeling and simulation capabilities [that] allow us to try new concepts without bending steel,” Mabus said. “They allow us to look at things like asymmetrical concepts without going through the tortuous, sometimes years-long acquisition process.
The US Navy is already well on the path to being fully unmanned. Mabus said the Close-In Autonomous Disposable Aircraft (CICADA) “can be made with a 3D printer, and is a GPS guided disposable unmanned aerial vehicle that can be deployed in large numbers to 'seed' an area with miniature electronic payloads, such as communication nodes or sensors.” It's clear the secretary wants more of the same as time goes on.
The F-35's overdue, over-budget status is likely an equally key driver of the Navy's decision. “Too many new assets are mired in outdated bureaucratic practices that were developed for another era. As we enter the age of cyber, unmanned systems and advanced manufacturing, we cannot allow these overly complex, form-over-substance, often useless, and too often harmful, practices to slow or prevent development of some game changers, while simultaneously giving our potential adversaries the competitive advantage.”
“We have bound ourselves with rules and requirements that have nothing to do with the ultimate outcome of getting something to the warfighter and everything with protecting bureaucratic fiefdoms.”