The Department of Defense is at the leading edge of a transition to unmanned vehicles, with nearly all of its attention on unmanned aircraft. There is little real interest in the unarmed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) except as a learning tool, but no consensus about the features of its combat-capable cousin, the unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). For the Navy, much of the promise of UCAVs hinges on their deployment from smaller surface combatants, not just carriers.
UCAVs could give every surface combatant area-defense capability, expanding the range of response that a single combatant represents in a crisis, and allowing it to take on some of the lower-end missions of a battle group. More important, ships, aircraft, and crews have been operating for a decade far beyond sustainable paces. Adding a UCAV air-wing offers added flexibility.