SUBJECT AREA Warfighting
RPV's: New Eyes for the Corps
Dr. Rudolph Wiggins
In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements
for Written Communications
The Marine Corps Command and Staff Collegd
Major D. L. Abblitt
United States Marine Corps
April 16, 1984
RPV's: New Eyes for the Corps
Thesis sentence: To take advantage of the technolgical advances of today's
high threat battlefield, the Marine Corps needs to
determine what functions RPV's will perform, and when
RPV's will be part of the Marine Corps' combat arsenal.
A. RPV's over Lebanon in 1982
B. The Marine Corps at a decision point with RPV's
II. What mission areas would RPV's perform for the Marine Corps
A. RPV's integration into the six functions of Marine aviation
1. Offensive Air Support
2. Antiair Warfare
3. Assault Support
4. Aerial Reconnaissance
5. Electronic Warfare
6. Command and Control
B. RPV's suitability within those functional areas
1. RPV characteristics
2. RPV capabilibties
III. How should the Marine Corps proceed in their acquisition of an RPV
A. Delay on the decision
B. Continue research and development with the U.S. Army
C. Purchase an operational system already available
A. RPV's would best perform Aerial Reconnaissance, Electronic
Warfare, and Command and Control
B. The Marine Corps would be best served by a simple, proven
RPV's: New Eyes for the Corps
The modern battlefield requires the commander to be fully prepared
to handle the dynamics of rapid maneuver warfare brought upon him by his
enemy. He must account for enemy ground movement as well as the
enemy's threat from air mobile forces and air-to-ground attack aircraft. If a
commander is incapable of accomplishing these tasks, his ability to wage war
will be significantly jeopardized and readily available for destruction by the
opposing force. What could serve as a better example of this than the Israeli
invasion of Lebanon during June 1982. To control their destiny, the Israelis
made a calculated decision to develop a means of acquiring real-time tactical
information of the battlefield; their decision was to utilize Remotely Piloted
As defined in JCS Pub 1, an RPV is an "unmanned air vehicle capable
of real-time control by a person from a distant location through a
communications link." RPV's also fit into the broader definition of "drone"
which refers to a land, sea or air vehicle controlled either remotely or
automatically. For the Israelis, the RPV's produced a tremendous tactical
advantage which enhanced their position on the battlefield: "The Israelis
used RPV's last year  to help deal the Soviet-equipped Syrians a
humiliating defeat in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Radar-reflecting decoy drones
lured SAM antiaircraft batteries into wasting deadly missiles. Then, RPV's,
locating targets electronically, helped Israeli jets to destroy 19 Surface to Air
Missile (SAM) launchers while suffering only a single loss. Meanwhile,
video-equipped drones hovered above Syrian airfieids signaling each time a
MiG [aircraft] took off. This [information] allowed Israeli fighters, armed
with air-to-air missiles, to score 81 "kills" with no losses of their own."1
During the Vietnam war, the United States armed forces made rather
extensive use of drones and RPV's (more than 3,400 operational sorties were
flown sustaining an attrition rate of less than 10%). However, due to
post-war budgetary constraints, many of the previous RPV programs were
accorded a low priority in terms of money available for research and
development. It wasn't until the Israelis had enjoyed their significant
successes in Lebanon that the Department of Defense renewed its full
interest in continued development of Remotely Piloted Vehicles. Advances
in electronic miniaturization, structural design, and composite material,
combined with the Israelis innovative tactical application of RPV's, has
revitalized the RPV program. As stated by Colonel Robert D. Evans, Aquila
program manager for the United States Army, the manner in which the
Israelis "used the RPV's over Lebanon provided them with a combat force
multiplier at a relatively inexpensive cost."2 The United States Marine
Corps is now at a decision point: Whether or not to take full advantage of this
combat-proven system by integrating RPV's into the Marine Corps' combat
arms. In order to evaluate the effects of the RPV's integration into the
Marine Corps, two areas have been selected for analysis: 1. What mission
areas would remotely piloted vehicles best perform in support of the United
States Marine Corps; and 2. What the Marine Corps' best course of action
would be in selecting a remotely piloted vehicle.
Remotely piloted vehicles are capable of being programmed to handle
a wide variety of missions. James P. Wade Jr., principal Deputy under
Secretary of Defense of Research and Engineering offered the following
viewpoint: "Recent advances in composite materials, low-cost engine
technology, microelectronics, sensors, navigation systems, command and
control concepts, data storage and data links have made application of a
variety of subsystem capabilities possible in packages small and inexpensive
enough to create promising unmanned sensor platform opportunities."3
With today's technological advances, the Marine Corps has a full range of
remotely piloted vehicle options available. However, if the RPV program is
to be kept manageable, the Marine Corps needs to develop a list of critical
mission requirements. To facilitate this task, since the RPV's are classified
as air vehicles, it would be prudent to orient the RPV capabilities around
established aviation functions the Marine Aircraft Wing already performs
with manned aircraft. As deliniated in FMFM 5-1, in order for Marine
aviation to accomplish its mission as the supporting air component of the
Fleet Marine Force, the multitude of tasks required of aviation have been
organized into six functional areas; they are as follows:
1. Offensive Air Support (OAS)--Air action against enemy targets
which can either be in close proximity to friendly units and requires close
coordination with the friendly maneuver units (Close Air Support), or air
action beyond the Fire Support Coordination Line which does not require
detailed integration with the fire and maneuver of friendly ground forces
(Deep Air Support).
2. Antiair Warfare (AAW)-Operations conducted against enemy
aircraft and /or missiles, their supporting forces, and operating bases. AAW
comprises all measures, both offensive and defensive, employed to gain and
maintain air superiority.
3. Assault Support--Vertical assault airlift for the landing force, air
delivery of critical materials to combat elements of the landing force, air
evacuation for elements of the landing force, and in-flight refueling service
for both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.
4. Aerial Reconnaissance--Visual reconnaissance as well as
multisensor imagery (photograghy, side looking radar, and infrared) and
5. Electric Warfare--Military action involving the use of
electromagnetic energy to determine, exploit, reduce, or prevent hostile use
of the electromagnetic spectrum and action which retains friendly use of this
spectrum (Electronic Warfare Support Measures, Electronic Countermeasures,
and Electronic Counter-Countermeasurres).
6. Command and Control--The capability of Marine aviation to
exercise authority over, and maintain direction of, air support elements
during the conduct of operations. It is to facilitate the execution of this
function that the Marine Air Command and Control System (MACCS) is
When developing this integrated support system, maintaining a
balanced force is critical; there should not be a total commitment to one
means of aviation over the other. After reviewing all the functional areas, it
is clear that RPV's were not designed to provide the services associated with
Assault Support. When considering the tasks required for Offensive Air
Support and Antiair Warfare, although these are feasible mission
assignments, it is questionable whether these functions would be the most
efficient and effective use of the RPV's for the United States Marine Corps.
There are several RPV's, currently on the market, capable of carrying a
limited variety of ordnance (rockets, bombs, spray tanks, etc); however, the
development of those RPV's was not without certain sacrifices. To be able to
handle the larger or heavier payloads, the RPV's required several design
feature modifications: 1. A larger airframe with stronger wing spars to
support the added weight; 2. A higher aspect ratio (the wings length
compared to its width) to provide for better stability during weapons
delivery; and, 3. A larger power plant to sustain the same relative airspeed.
Today's "typical" RPV could be characterized by the following
parameters: Wing Span--10 to 12 feet; Length--12 to 14 feet; Gross
Weight--200 to 400 pounds; Payload--40 to 70 pounds; and, Powered
by--20 to 30 horsepower engine. To provide a comparison of size and
capability differences between an RPV and a manned aircraft, the following
information is provided on the A-4 Sky Hawk, a light-attack jet aircraft for
the Marine Corps: Wing Span--27 feet 6 inches; Length--40 feet 4 inches;
BasicWeight--approximately 12,000 pounds (varies based on modifications;
neither fuel nor ordnance are included); Payload--9,000 pounds (varies with
aircraft configuration and mission assigned); and, Powered by--Pratt and
Whitney J-52-P-408 Turbo Jet Engine with 11,500 pounds of thrust. Table 1
provides a comparison of several RPV's; air vehicles that are either currently
operational and available for purchase or ones that are in their final stages
of development or production. "Aquila," developed by Lockheed Missiles
and Space Company, is the United States Army's 70 month Full Scale
Development program designed to provide the commander with a remotely
piloted vehicle.4 "Scout" and "Mastiff" are Israeli RPV's; they are
manufactured by Israel Aircraft Corporation and Tadiran/Israel Electronics
Industries respectively (both of these systems were used during the 1982
Lebanon invasion). And, "Skyeye," manufactured independently by
Developmental Sciences, Incorporated, is currently on the market and
represents one of the RPV's capable of carrying a limited ordnance load (note
the increased size and weight). In reviewing the table, it is significant to
note the differences in Range, Endurance, and Payload.
Click here to view image
In terms of size, and maneuverability, the perponderance of RPV's on
the market today are not structurally designed to handle a heavy ordnance
load. Therefore, unless they are programmed to attack soft, point targets,
the RPV's would not be able to deliver a lethal blow. In that regard, RPV's
cannot compete with the capabilities of manned, fixed wing aircraft on
missions specifically designated as Offensive Air Support or Antiair Warfare.
Marvin Klemow, director of Israeli Aircraft Industries' Washington
office stated: "It is not the airframe that counts, it is the payload, the magic
The mission that Aquila was designed to do [Aquila was originally designed
for target acquisition and designation, aerial reconnaissance, and artillery
adjustment missions.5] is only one of the minor functions of Scout. It [Scout]
also does airfield searches, intelligence gathering, electronic
countermeasures, Naval target acquisition, and many, many classified
missions."6 There are a significant number of factors that go into selecting
appropriate items of equipment in order to accomplish required missions.
And, a well balanced mix of RPV's and tactical manned aircraft would
produce a very effective force structure. Of the six functions discussed, three
areas stand out as providing the most effective utilization of RPV's: Aerial
Reconnaissance, Electronic Warfare, and Command and Control. Dr. Azriel
Lorber, an Israeli RPV expert, has indicated that the real value of the RPV is
in its ability "to collect and disseminate information in real-time."7 In
justifying his comments, Dr. Lorber suggested two separate levels that could
gain the most from this real-time information source:
The first is the intelligence officer of the brigade or division,
who can use it to fill out accurately those egg-shapped forms on
his map put there by other intelligence gathering means.
Processing and collating this information takes time; its transfer
and assimilation takes time. . .in the midst of action, this chain
of events is by far too long. . .So now we come to the second
user of such information, the battalion or brigade commander
himself. If in the middle of the engagement he could look at
every terrain feature. . .this would help him enormously.8
It is not my intention to indicate that there are only three functions
RPV's are capable of performing; on the contrary, remotely piloted vehicles
are only limited by their size and their capacity to launch with the wide
variety of electronic sensors, camera pods, laser designators, ordnance
(bombs, rockets, missiles, spray tanks, etc.; as deemed appropriate), and a
variety of other miscellaneous equipment. However, with every additional
mission assigned to the RPV's, the field commander's logistics load will
continue to increase. The judgement then is whether or not the benefit
gained from the missions assigned to the RPV's and the probability of their
successful completion exceed the logistics burden that will be placed on a
highly mobile force. The key determinant is the probability of successful
completion of an assigned mission; and, the RPV's have proven in combat to
be most effective in each of the functional areas selected: Reconnaissance,
Electronic Warfare and Command and Control.
For the United States and its allies, it is essential to recognize that
many nations have very strong interests in the development and utilization
of remotely piloted vehicles. As pointed out by William A. Burhans, the
"continued coverage of RPV's in open Soviet literature and analysis of the
Falklands conflict, show that the Soviet military places great importance on
remotely piloted vehicles."9 There have been over 20 nations, including
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and India, taking the initial steps towards RPV
purchases following its successful record in Bekaa Valley. "Developmental
Sciences, Incorporated [DSI], a City of Industry, California-based
manufacturer, has already sold RPV's to two Third World countries. Sighs
DSI President Gerald Seemann: 'One of those systems will have been in place
for five years before the Army gets any [RPV's]."'10 The reference being
made is to the Army's commitment to the Aquila program and an apparently
constant set of delays and setbacks plaguing the program. The concern
expressed by many representatives from industry, as well as the defense
establishment, is that delayed acquisition of an RPV system will only extend
the time it takes the United States armed forces to develop the tactics and
doctrine required for integrating RPV's into the force structure; in the mean
time, potential adversaries will have had fully operational RPV programs.
The Marine Corps has its normal complement of intelligence nets,
sensors, ground and aerial observers, and airborne and ground electornic
warfare systems; however, most of these sources require varying amounts of
time for processing, analyzing, or disseminating before that information can
be utilized by the commander responsible for making prompt, critical
decisions. Such a "time-sensitive" situation establishes the basic drive for
integrating RPV's into the Corps; none of our current programs provide the
commander with the real-time intelligence so vital to success on today's
highly technical battlefield. In determining what course of action to take
regarding the acquistion of a remotely piloted vehicle system, the Marine
Corps has several options available: 1. Postpone any decision waiting for
additional information from research on existing systems and systems
currently being developed; 2. Join efforts with the United States Army in
the development of the Aquila RPV system; or, 3. Strike out on the open
market to take advantage of existing systems.
A delayed decision has some inherently good qualities: It will allow
time to more adequately define the desired mission of the RPV for the
Marine Corps; And, it will provide more products to choose from when the
decision is made. However, if the needs and wishes of the Marine Corps are
to be recognized and taken into account during the developmental stages,
then it is necessary to initiate movement toward a desired program.
Additionally, to delay the decision only increases the opportunity of going to
war without the RPV's, delays the development of tactics and doctrine for
RPV employment, and does nothing to stave off the rising cost of purchasing
Historically, the Marine Corps has always had to contend with a
limited-budget. Accordingly, it has been common practice for the Marines to
line up with one of the sister services for research and development of new
products--the Aquila RPV program is just such a case. The United States
Army has been the driving force behind the program; and, as stated by Lt.
Gen. James H. Merryman, Army deputy chief of staff for research,
development and acquisition: "I can tell you in no uncertain terms, the
Army is fully commited to fielding an RPV [Aquila] and we are going to start
fielding that RPV in 1985. . . .The challange, however, is to develop a
subsequent RPV system that is easier to transport and easier to maintain."11
General Merryman's statement does not provide a very favorable outlook for
the immediate needs of the Marine Corps. Even though the fielding date is
programmed for 1985, the actual date offered for operational deployment of
the Aquila system is 1987. Furthermore, as pointed out by Colonel John
Carlton, Marine Corps representative to the Pacific Missile Test Center at
Point Magu, California, the straight forward goal of the Marine Corps "is to
make it [the RPV] as simple as possible."12 It--simplicity-- is precisely the
point that makes the Aquila such a disquieting selection. The Army,
continuing to add more and more requirements to the system, is creating an
increasingly more complex RPV. In so doing, the goals of the Marine Corps
may have been overshadowed by the Army in their search for a system that
will do it all (provisions for of up to 60 different tasks). The option for a
joint Army/Marine Corps RPV acquisition would be more feasible if the
system design had remained simpler; however, "Aquila's delicate
aerodynamics, chiefly its elegant tailless design, restrict it to small payloads
with precisous little flexibility and margin for error."13 Certainly, the Aquila
will be an impressive system; but, there may be more practical paths
There are many remotely piloted vehicles on the market today, most
of them capable of performing a wide variety of functions. In fact, the
number of manufacturers and developers is so extensive that it is well
beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice it to say, there are many RPV
systems available and each could be tested to meet the immediate needs of
the Marine Corps. However, two operational systems (Scout and Mastiff) are
veterans of many combat missions; their individual value has been tested
and proven on the battlefield. In establishing their impressive record, both
the Scout and the Mastiff have displayed a fine degree of flexibility in
mission capabilities. The scope of investigation should not necessarily be
limited to just these two systems, but the capabilities of Scout and Mastiff
and their concept of employment have a great deal to offer the United States
Remotely piloted vehicles have demonstrated a tremendous capability
of providing the battlefield commander the real-time intelligence so vital
with today's highly mobile, combat environment. For the Marine Corps, the
most effective way to utilize this tool would be to integrate the RPV's into
Marine aviation--create a blend of RPV's and manned aircraft. Programming
the RPV's for Aerial Reconnaissance, Electronic Warfare, and Command and
Control would allow the manned aircraft to concentrate on higher priority
targets and targets requiring heavier ordnance loads. Through combat
operations, the Israelis have been able to validate the importance of RPV's.
The significance is clear, and it is now time for the Marine Corps to take full
advantage of this cost-effective, force multiplier.
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Week and Space Technology, 119 (8 August 1983),42.
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