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Remotely Piloted Vehicles-The Unexploited Force Multiplier
AUTHOR Major G.D. Thrash, USMC
CSC 1989
SUBJECT AREA - Operations
                EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
I.   Purpose:  To study the history of remotely piloted
vehicles and consider their usefulness to future military
II.  Problem:  In a time of declining defense budgets,
remotely piloted vehicles serve as an effective force
multiplier when properly integrated into the command and
control system.
III. Data:  The modern RPV era, which began in late 1959
with the shooting down of Gary Francis Power's U-2 over
Russia, was meagerly funded and consisted of placing
cameras in target drones. With no RPVs to image Cuba
during the missile crisis in 1962, quick reaction programs
were begun so that by the time the Vietnam War began, RPVs
were ready to be employed. After Vietnam, GAO cited the
principal reason for the lack of RPV use by the military
to be "user apathy, the reluctance to replace manned
aircraft with an unmanned air vehicle." After the dismal
display of naval force projection in Lebanon in 1983, DOD
refocused attention to the utility of RPVs on a modern
battlefield. Acquiring the Mastiff III in 1984, the naval
services have now upgraded to the Pioneer I RPV, which is
presently deployed with Navy and Marine Corps units.
IV.  Conclusions:  While not meant to totally replace
manned reconnaissance platforms, RPVs are most cost
effective when the threat to aircraft is high. Present
command and control systems must be expanded to support
multiple simultaneous RPV missions and the needs of
tomorrow, not simply the demands of the present. Remotely
piloted vehicles proved effective in Vietnam and the
Israeli conflict in Lebanon and will provide future
military commanders with more usable options.
V.   Recommendation:  By continuing to fund RPVs in
peacetime and by deploying them as soon as possible,
remotely piloted vehicles will serve as an effective force
multiplier and allow lives to be saved in any future
Thesis: In a time of declining defense budgets, remotely
piloted vehicles serve as an effective force-multiplier
when properly integrated into the command and control
  I. History
     A. Early developments in 1920's
     B. German World War II V-1 "Buzzbomb"
     C. Modern Era
         1. Cuban missile crisis
         2. Vietnam
         3. Israeli employment
 II. RPVs-From Dormancy to Miracle Cure in the 1980's
     A. Military apathy
     B. Navy in Lebanon
     C. Mastiff III RPV
III. Force Multiplier
     A. Timely intelligence
     B. RPV vs aircraft-relative costs
     C. Political advantages
 IV. Command and Control
     A. Multiple RPV Operations
     B. Total Force Integration
                           by Major Doug Thrash,USMC
         It was June 1982, and Lebanon's Bekaa Valley was a
hornet's nest of Soviet-built SAMs(surface-to-air
missiles). Within this strategic valley were batteries of
the latest version of the SA-6, an agile medium range
missile. The SA-6, previously unknown to the Israelis until
the 1973 Yom Kippur War, had destroyed dozens of Israeli
warplanes. After the Israeli Air Force suffered
unacceptable losses to Egyptian SA-6s opposite the Suez
Canal, to saturate the enemy air defense systems, deplete
Egypt's missile supply, and screen Israel's fighter
bombers, the Israelis used scores of "harrassment" drones.
         Having wisely applied lessons learned in the 1973
war, Israel's 1982 Lebanon campaign demonstrated the most
successful integration of remotely piloted vehicles(RPVs)
into an overall attack force to date. The Israelis knocked
out 18 SAM sites in the first hour of fighting and
destroyed 10 more in succeeding days as Syria moved in more
SAMS. Eighty-six MIGS were shot down in air-to-air combat
with loss of only one Israeli A-4 Skyhawk--shot down by a
shoulder-launched missile. The SA-6s were decoyed by U.S.
designed Samson air launched decoys which simulated
incoming strike aircraft. While Syrian SA-6 batteries
responded to decoy attacks, Israel deployed Scout and
Mastiff RPVs for surveillance and to detect the frequencies
employed by the SAM radars. Those frequencies detected by
the RPVs were jammed by specially configured CH-53 Sea
Stallion helicopters while Syrian air defense forces,
foiled by the decoys, fell victim to Israeli anti-radiation
missiles. Massive Israeli air strikes and long range
artillery support provided ample firepower, while Israeli
RPVs monitored the battlefield.(18:66)
         After the attack, Pentagon officials speculated
that Israel had developed a new secret weapon to defeat the
deadly SAMs. Only after a visit by General John Vessey Jr.,
then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did the
Israelis reveal that their success lay in the employment of
remotely piloted vehicles(RPVs).(12:78)
         In a time of declining defense budgets, remotely
piloted vehicles serve as an effective force multiplier
when properly integrated into the command and control
system. With trillion dollar budgets and high technology
weaponry, why has RPV use not been exploited before?
Remotely piloted vehicles proved effective during Vietnam
and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and will provide future
military commanders with more useable options.
         The history of unmanned aircraft started shortly
after the first manned flight. Attempts to try to bring
together the infant technologies of aerodynamics,
light-weight engines, and radios resulted in live
experiments of unmanned aircraft on both the European and
North American continents. In the United Kingdom,
Farnborough built six pilotless aircraft in mid-1917 and
tested 3 of them at the Northolt Aerodrome, near London.
The Northolt experiments involved launch of aircraft from a
50 foot horizontal ramp and up to 100 foot incline in free
flight, but each aircraft stalled and crashed. The
armistice of 1918 halted German experiments which had
advanced to include work on gliders of up to 2,205 pounds
weight which had a range of five miles, after being
launched from airships at Jutersborg.(1:2)
         During 1916 in the United States, Elmer Sperry of
the Sperry Gyroscope Company, together with Peter Hewitt,
successfully developed an automatic control system for the
Curtiss flying boat. After U.S. entry in the war in 1917,
funds were made available for development of a flying bomb.
The U.S. Navy ordered five aircraft designed as flying
bombs. During the Navy trials, which began in late 1917,
the unmanned Curtiss N-9 seaplanes suffered crashes
after catapult launch and engine failures. Despite
extensive aircraft redesign, the program suffered more
setbacks resulting in a program cancellation in
         Despite setbacks in the Navy's flying bomb
program, the U.S. Army was interested in continued
flying bomb development and gave a contract to Charles
Kettering to develop an unmanned aircraft. Twenty-five
of the small, cheap, crudely built biplanes, named the
"Kettering Bug", were ordered in January 1918.  A
mixture of successful flights and crashes followed, but
the successes were dramatic enough for the Army Signal
Corps to order an additional seventy-five copies. With
the war winding down and only 20 of the "Bugs"
completed, 14 additional flights resulted in 10 crashes,
with the longest flight only 16 miles.(1:3)
         The Germans in World War II developed the V-1
"Buzzbomb", a simple unmanned aircraft with a wingspan
of about 19 feet and overall length of 26 feet. The
standard version, with a warhead of 1000 pounds and a
range of 200 miles, was guided to target by a gyroscope
and an aneroid barometer, which held the missile at 1000
feet or less over the ground. Flying at nearly 400 mph,
with a flight time from France to London of only 22
minutes, 8892 flying bombs landed in the
United Kingdom, causing casualties of 6184 killed and
17,981 seriously wounded. More dramatic was the 93,000
tons of Allied bombs dropped on V-1 sites and factories,
with loss of 450 aircraft and 2900 valuable aircrew
lives. While the V-1 "Buzzbomb" failed to acheive the
level of success that the German High Command had hoped
for, the damage caused by these inexpensive and
relatively simple weapons had been traumatic.(1:16)
         Although RPV pioneering efforts continued
during the 1950's, the drones produced were relegated
generally to roles of aerial targets and considered to
be nothing more than training devices.
         The modern RPV era began in late 1959, three
and a half years after the United States began
overflying Russia in the high altitude U-2 aircraft.
Eight months after the Air Force started work on
adapting a target drone for photographic intelligence,
Gary Francis Powers was shot down over Russia on May
Day, 1960 while flying the U-2 spyplane. The result was
a long awaited Paris summit meeting being cancelled and
President Eisenhower's announcement that offending U-2
flights would cease.(20:39) With the nations first
operational spy satellite over 18 months away and the
Mach-3 SR-71 program not yet begun, the U.S. had lost
its main intelligence source behind the Iron and Bamboo
Curtains. Not surprisingly, work on unmanned reconnaissance
systems that could penetrate hostile enemy territory and
bring back photographic intelligence began to get serious
attention. This work intensified, when two months to the
day Powers was captured in Russia, an RB-47 bomber which
had been converted for electronic intelligence, was shot
down between Norway and Russia with two of its five
crewmembers taken prisoner by the Soviet Union.(20:39)
         In July 8,1960, just a week after the RB-47 was
shot down, the Air Force awarded a $200,000 contract to
Ryan Aeronautical Company for a project, code named "Red
Wagon", to  demonstrate a modified "Firebee" drone for
remotely controlled photographic surveillance missions.
Just when the project was to expand, Dr. Harold Brown, then
Secretary of Defense-Research and Engineering, held up
contract money and effectively killed the program. Less
than two years later, Dr. Brown was very anxious to forget
his earlier cancellation of "Red Wagon".(24:17)
         On Oct 27,1962, the day President Kennedy demanded
that Russia dismantle Cuban missile bases and remove
nuclear warheads, USAF Major Rudolph Anderson was shot down
by a Soviet SA-2 Guideline while flying a U-2 mission over
Cuba. At the peak of the Cuban missile crisis, President
Kennedy needed accurate photographic intelligence to
confirm or deny removal of the nuclear warheads. When it
was found only two U-2s were immediately available for
Cuban overflight missions, DOD officials frantically
inquired as to the availability of Ryan's pilotless drones
to do the job.(2:130) Unfortunately due to program
cancellation by Dr. Brown, only two drones had been built.
The result was numerous Navy RF-8As from VFP-62 and Air
Force U-2s from the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing
were used to image Cuba extensively. When the Cuban missile
crisis diminished, the U.S. RPV program had received the
necessary momentum to ensure RPVs were ready for wartime
service when North Vietnamese and U.S. ships clashed in
August 1964.
         Between 1964 and 1972, a period when over 5000
Americana lost their lives in Southeast Asia in downed or
crashed aircraft, 3,435 RPV combat sorties were flown by
Strategic Air Command's 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing
over North Vietnam, China, Laos, and elsewhere. The first
pilotless Ryan RPVs named "Lightning Bug", and later
"Buffalo Hunter", suffered an attrition rate of less than
10 percent while performing missions of photographic
intelligence, damage assessments, electronic intelligence,
chaff dispersal, and propaganda leaflet distribution.
(20:39) At a time when 90 percent of the American prisoners
of war were downed pilots or crewman, RPVs returned from
missions deep within enemy territory at a fraction of the
cost of manned reconnaissance aircraft.
         Remotely piloted vehicles have yet to alter man's
destiny that profoundly, but they may in our lifetime. Dr.
Edward Teller, father of nuclear weaponry told a small
group of reporters in 1981 that in his opinion, "The
unmannned air vehicle today is a technology akin to the
importance of radars and computers in 1935." (24:xi)
Historians generally agree that the radar and Ultra
code-breaking computer turned the tide of World War II.
         The lack of public visibility about what RPVs have
accomplished during the past two decades, and what they
might do in the future, is one of the key reasons why RPVs
were not exploited by military planners until the
mid-1980's. Those RPV missions flown in Southeast Asia were
highly classified and not many people, including the
military, were aware of the role they played. Another
factor contributing to the lack of RPV development within
the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, was that
aviators were responsible for RPV use. Although RPV
missions were meant to complement those of manned aircraft,
funds for RPV procurement competed directly with manned
aircraft funds. Any pilot who recommended buying an RPV
instead of a manned aircraft might have ended his own
         In a April 3, 1981 report, the Government
Accounting Office (GAO) accused the U.S. military of not
sharing the high regard for RPVs that the Israelis had.
With only two RPV development programs underway and limited
plans for future operations, GAO cited the principal reason
for the lack of use of vehicles by the military to be "user
apathy, the reluctance to replace manned aircraft with an
unmanned air vehicle." (17:43)  The GAO report cited a 1978
House Armed Services Commmittee report which told the
Pentagon it was unhappy over DODs "inefficient management"
of then current RPV programs. The committee said it "would
also like to convey support for the requirement to have
RPVs in our military in view of their demonstrated success
in actual combat."(17:43)
         Two and a half years after the 1981 GAO report,
which stated "increased use of RPVs in high risk and
political situations could greatly reduce losses in future
conflicts,"(17:44) the U.S. Navy was deployed off the coast
of Lebanon in December, 1983. In response to sporadic
firing on carrier aircraft, the Navy attacked SAM sites in
Lebanon at a cost of three aircraft, one pilot, and a loss
of confidence in the U.S. ability to project power in that
region. Tens days later the USS New Jersey (BB-62), with
her 16-inch guns, opened fire on Syrian antiaircraft
positions. The long range naval gunfire was ineffective
because there was no means of adjusting fire and bomb
damage assessment(BDA) could only be determined by risking
expensive F-14A fighters with TARP camera pods.(13:44) The
impressive Israeli success with RPVs in Lebanon in 1982 and
Navy's experience in the same area a year later refocused
DOD's attention to the utility of RPVs on the modern
         In 1983, then Secretary of the Navy John Lehman
directed the acquisition of off-the-shelf RPV systems for
developmental and operational testing, and employment by
the Navy and Marine Corps. In June 1984, the Marine Corps
activated 1st RPV Platoon at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and
equipped it with the Israeli Mastiff III RPV system. This
platoon, while attached to  the 13th MAU from June-November
1986, deployed to the Western Pacific and participated in
joint exercises in Alaska, Thailand, Australia, and the
Phillipines. The fielding, employment, and doctrinal
development of the Mastiff III and subsequent Pioneer I RPV
replacement allowed three years of valuable experience with
the actual fleet users identifying personnel and equipment
related problems.
         Although today's military commander has available
many long range, highly accurate weapons, he may be unable
to commit these weapons because of the lack of timely,
reliable intelligence. Imagery intelligence from national
reconnaissance assets such as satellites, SR-71s, and
TR-1s, while extremely capable, will seldom be available to
exclusively to support today's commander, thus denying him
critical real-time intelligence for tactical operations.
Since modern warfare will be fast paced, the commander
must strike first and prevent the enemy from firing his
weapons. By providing real-time target classification,
decisions on how best to employ his finite assets can be
intelligently made.
         Remotely piloted vehicles, which will never fully
replace manned aircraft, can perform an increasingly
sophisticated array of missions due to their small size
and  decreased radar, acoustical, and infrared signatures.
To wholly replace man with hardware systems and expect the
RPV to do the same job previously accomplished with manned
aircraft, would be expensive and technically risky.
Therefore, the RPV should be only considered for certain
types of missions for which it can be a cost effective,
unique weapon system. The absence of an aircrew means that
a great deal of space and weight in the RPV can be saved.
With a continuing trend of miniturization in electronics
and other components, the RPV can be made much smaller and
cheaper. While smaller is usually better, the size of the
RPV will be largely determined by the size of the payload,
which could be a sophisticated electronics package or in
the case of the Air Force AGM-136A Tacit Rainbow
antiradiation missile, a 40 pound warhead.(15:87)
         In a study of tactical airpower by the Brookings
Institution, the RPV was considered as "perhaps the best
way to break out of the cost spiral in which manned U.S.
[aircraft] designs seemed to be trapped."(4:1) To assess
the place of RPVs in operations we need to consider
questions such as relative cost and utility of both manned
aircraft and RPVs. Manned aircraft are very expensive and
their unit cost is still rising, with the cost increase
between aircraft generations quite striking. Comparing the
costs of U.S. aircraft in constant 1985 dollars, the F-100
of 1954 cost just over $2 million; the F-4 Phantom in 1962
cost over $6 million; while the F-15 of 1974 cost $25
         Not only are production costs rising, but the cost
of aircraft support, generally twice the production cost,
continues to rise. Statistics from Air Force's Tactical Air
Commmand shows the cost of replenishment spare parts during
the in-service life of an F-4E to be $3.5 million and for
an F-15A to be $10.7 million, while depot costs are $7.7
million and $5.8 million respectively. The total in-service
operational and support costs for one aircraft including
fuel, support equipment, and personnel pay for all unit and
support personnel to be approximately $65 million for
either aircraft.(1:100) While the F-15A requires fewer
maintenance hours per flight hour than the F-4E, the cost
of those reduced hours exceeds previous F-4E support
         In contrast, the U.S. Navy awarded AAI Corporation
in January 1986 a $25.8 million contract to build  three
Pioneer I short-range RPVs as the first step in a Navy
effort to acquire a family of RPVs. Each Pioneer I system
consists of eight RPVs, one ground control station(GCS),
two portable control stations(PCS), two remote receiving
stations(RRS), a launcher, and associated maintenance
support equipment.(7:28)
         In August 1984, the Army ordered a Lear Siegler
Skyeye R4E-40 RPV system for $4.9 million which included
two RPVs, a GCS, a launcher, and four payloads which
included a low-light level television camera, an imaging
infrared sensor, and a panoramic camera. Subsequently, the
Army Skyeye RPV was deployed to Honduras and used
extensively for night surveillance. Over 120 operational
hours were flown by two Skyeye RPVs in the first 2 months
of operation. Because of increased operational tempo,
Congress allowed the Army to purchase a second Skyeye
squadron in July 1985 for $8.2 million. The second
squadron, with more equipment than the first, had four RPVs
and six payload packages. (6:85)
         In general, it can be said that if a particular
RPV is designed to be simple, limited in role and
recoverable, as in the case of tactical reconnaissance RPVs
like the Pioneer I and Skyeye R4E-40, then its cost
effectiveness can scarcely be in doubt. But if RPVs are
allowed to become more complex with multiple missions and
expensive support, then the RPV cost effectiveness compared
to manned aircraft is questionable.
         The Army's Aquila RPV program is an example of a
simple surveillance RPV becoming increasingly complex and
its ultimate cancellation in June 1988. Even after 13 years
of development and a cost of over $1 billion, the Aquila
still failed to meet minimum performance standards. When
the first version of the Aquila flew in 1976 with a small
television camera, it had a projected cost of about
$100,000 each. In 1984, the Aquila cost had risen to
$800,000 each, with the total program cost projected to be
$2.4 billion. When all the Army specifications were
compiled, to include exotic payloads, data links that could
not be jammed, and ability to work in any climate, those
companies interested in bidding were given a 12 volume set
of specifications.(8:1) A simple RPV that allowed a
battalion commander to see over the next hill, was allowed
to become so complex that it became a Corps commanders
asset, incapable of supporting front line units.
         Remotely piloted vehicles are ideally suited to
perform missions that cannot be economically or feasibly
satisfied with manned aircraft. Using RPVs when attack
aircraft loss rates are anticipated to be unacceptably
high, has the two-fold advantage of not only reducing the
loss of expensive aircraft, but also reducing the number of
casualties and POWs. The political advantage of gathering
intelligence without risking the death or capture of
American servicemen looms large if military actions similar
to the strikes on Libya or Lebanon need to be carried out
in the future. A precise appraisal of RPV value is
practically impossible because it requires the
quantification of intangibles such as the loss of a
flightcrew's life, the impact on national prestige due to a
failed or errant attack, and the limitations placed on
foreign policy imposed by the prospects or consequences of
captured American servicemen.
         The command and control requirements needed to
ensure optimum employment of RPV assets are accurate and
comprehensive analysis of the real-time information
provided by the RPVs, rapid dissemination to those agencies
that need to correlate or act on information, and
flexibility to respond to changing mission requirements. To
date, the maximum number of RPVs integrated into any U.S.
scenarios has been one RPV under direct control and one
under preprogrammed control. Present command and control
systems must be expanded to support future multiple
simultaneous RPV missions. The complexity of the modern
battlefield will not allow simple sequential task
performance. If the Israeli experience teaches us anything,
it is that RPVs must be integrated at every level into the
total force.
         Although this paper has focused mainly on the
short-range RPV with a maximum range of 100 miles, the RPV
systems in development include the multi-service medium
range RPV with a range of 350 miles and the endurance RPV,
capable of flight time in excess of 38 hours.(10:83) These
diverse air vehicles, each with different flight
characteristics and different sensors, will be operating in
the same airspace as manned aircraft, and subject to the
same airspace restrictions. Existing doctrinal
communication nets will not satisfy the future requirements
of RPV integration, key capabilities of the RPVs will be
wasted, and lives lost through accident or oversight. The
command and control associated with RPV integration must be
clearly thought out, focusing on the needs of tomorrow, not
simply the demands of the present.
         Remotely piloted vehicles are being developed that
will fill the gaps in current imagery collection systems.
These vehicles have three predominant advantages; they will
relay the imagery to the tactical commander in real or near
real-time; they will do so without risking expensive manned
aircraft and its crew; and they will be operated under the
direction of the on-scene commander. Remotely piloted
vehicles already have been used in combat to conduct
missions that were too dangerous or that could not be
carried out by manned aircraft.
         While not meant to totally replace manned
reconnaissance platforms, RPVs are most cost effective when
the threat to aircraft is high. In time of war, RPVs have
been in demand; but in peacetime, when their specialized,
high risk missions are not conducted, funding has
disappeared. However, by continuing to fund RPVs in
peacetime, and by deploying them as soon as possible,
remotely piloted vehicles will serve as an effective
force-multiplier and allow lives to be saved in any future
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