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RPV's Eyes For The Battlefield
CSC 1984
SUBJECT AREA Warfighting
           The Writing Program
         Command and Staff College
            Major Mark T. Beck
         United States Marine Corps
               April 6, 1984
                   RPV's:  EYES FOR THE BATTLEFIELD
Thesis statement:  Although there are those who believe that our Corps is
becoming too heavily burdened with machinery, the time has come to take a
serious look at possible RPV candidates and their potential applications.
  I. RPV developement
     A.   Definition
     B.   Potential uses
  II. RPV capabilities
     A.   Real-time information
     B.   Programmed or manual operation
     C.   Operate close to FEBA
     D.   Simultaneous video to multiple users
     E.   Target acquisition and adjustment
III. RPV advantages
     A.   No risk to pilot
     B.   Inexpensive
     C.   Less vulnerable
     D.   Operating sites
IV.  RPV limitations
     A.   Programmed routes
     B.   Field of vision
     C.   Defenseless
V.   RPV candidates
     A.   Fixed wing
          1. Scout
          2. Aquila
     B.   Helicopter
          1. Canadair CL-227
VI.  Analysis
     A.   Scout
          1. Combat tested
          2. Off-the-shelf
     B.   Aquila
          1. U.S. made
          2. Ready in 1987
          3. Army experience
     C.   Canadair CL-227
          1. Operates from ship
          2. Less shipping space
          3. Mobility
                 RPV's:  EYES FOR THE BATTLEFIELD
     Military commanders from ancient times to the present have been per-
plexed with the problem of obtaining adequate information about the
enemies they face.  Had Major General Hooker's forces been able to
detect the daylight flank march of General Stonewall Jackson's troops
during the Chancellorsville campaign, perhaps the history of that battle
would reveal a much different outcome.  In 1845 Wellington is quoted as
saying, "I have been passing my life in guessing what I might meet with
beyond the next hill, or round the next corner."1
     In this age of satellites and sophisticated reconnaissance aircraft,
it seems unlikely that today's commanders would have to contend with the
same frustrations Wellington and Hooker faced.  But, surprisingly, a
review of the "lessons learned" from many of our recent conflicts points
out that the lack of adequate intelligence remains to be a problem and
area for concern.  What better example to highlight this shortcoming than
the most recent operation in Grenada.  Although conducted on very short
notice and a successful endeavor in terms of mission accomplishment,
initial reports point to some serious gaps in intelligence available to
the military planners and on-scene commanders.
     Although the means of gathering information about our enemies has
developed rapidly over the years, so have the means to interfere with and
destroy those systems.  Going back to Chancellorsville once again, imagine
an OV-10 observation airplane flying lazy circles over Lee's lines provid-
ing current, accurate reports on his troop positions to Hooker.  He would
have had a tremendous advantage over his Confederate opponent.  Now equip
Lee's men with Stinger hand-held SAM's, and the luxury of uncontested obser-
vation is removed.  Although the capability to observe is still there, the
threat environment has greatly restricted the operation of this asset.
The Marine Corps has the opportunity to enter this high-threat environment
with the aid of remotely piloted vehicles (RPV's).  Although there are
those who believe that our Corps has become too heavily burdened with
machinery, the time has come to take a serious look at possible RPV candi-
dates and their potential  applications.
     Just what is a RPV?  By defenition it is, "An unmanned air vehicle
capable of real-time control by a person from a distant location through
a communications link.  It is normally designed to be recovered."2  The
idea,for RPV's dates back to the infant days of manned flight.  As early
as World War I attempts were being made to exploit the utility of this
remarkable new device by delivering lethal but inaccurate explosives to
the enemy.3
     The development  of RPV's has progressed to a point where modern
technology now offers reliable systems with multiple applications.  The
list of potential uses is large and varied.  These missions include the
following:  target drones, situation reconnaissance (photographic, IR,
SLAR/FLIR), target designation (detection, damage assessment), electronic
reconnaissance (ELINT), ECM (active and passive), ECCM, enemy air defense
saturation, communication relay, offensive air strike, and transport.4
This is not to say that a single RPV could perform all these missions.
Most RPV's are designed to carry out one or two missions with a certain
payload, but the payload may be changed to provide the vehicle with other
capabilities.  The point is this list provides several areas of employ-
ment that would enhance our present ability to collect intelligence and
these are the applications on which I am going to focus.
     Reconnaissance RPV's can furnish the commander in the field with
real-time information about the ground on the enemy side of the FEBA.
RPV's equipped with television cameras can transmit pictures, through a
down-link, directly back to monitors in the various command posts.  The
RPV on a reconnaissance mission can fly a pregrogrammed  route and return
to base or it can be flown in the manual mode where it is controlled
by an operator in the base control station.  It is also possible to combine
these methods by flying part of the mission automatically and part manually.
      The reconnaissance RPV should be a commander's tool.  Our present
aerial reconnaissance assets are so few that they have to be controlled
at a very high level.  The result of this is that the battalion commander
must compete with many others for the use of these assets.  Even if he
obtains the reconnaissance support he requests, there is often a severe
delay involved because the assets are so far removed from the requestor.
An RPV unit located close to the ground assault element would get this
valuable information directly into the hands of the individuals who need
it the most.
     The information the RPV is sending is not limited to a single user.
The television picture can be video-linked to multiple monitoring stations
so that all parties are receiving the information at the same time.
The key individuals who have a need for the product can be connected to
the system, thus avoid waiting for the information to filter down from
higher headquarters and through the staffs.  Planners in G/S-3, G/S-2, and
the FSCC could simultaneously receive the pictures being transmitted by a
particular mission.
     The other area of possible use for the Marine Corps is that of
target acquisition.  For supporting arms to be effective their fire must
be observed so it can be adjusted.  This is normally accomplished by the
FO, FAC, or NGF spot teams.  There are limitations as to where these
teams can go, and therefore, limitations to the effectiveness of these
weapons.  RPV's employed as target acquisition devices have much greater
freedom to roam the battlefield and perform this function.  They would be
particularly effective for targets deep in enemy-held territory where it
would be difficult to place observation on the targets.
     In addition to adjusting fire on known targets, RPV's can be very
useful as target detection platforms.  The clarity of the transmitted
video pictures provides users with target identification for air, artillery,
and naval gun fire missions.  Since these targets are disclosed on a real-
time basis, engagement can be accomplished quickly and fire missions mon-
itored for adjustment and battle damage assessment.  With the RPV the
surveillance area is greatly expanded and the use of supporting arms is
     With that brief explanation of what RPV's can do for us, let's take
a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with these
devices.  The most obvious advantage is the fact that there is no risk to
human life in RPV operations.  In aerial reconnaissance planning today,
the authority to conduct a certain mission, either RF-4 or OV-10, must be
weighed  against the threat and the potential for successful completion.
Risks will always be taken by men in time of war, but it would be to our
advantage to eliminate as much of that risk as is possible.  With the
human element removed we have the freedom to attempt missions which the
present threat would deem prohibitive.  RPV's will be able to conduct the
missions that the other assets could not due to the overwhelming nature
of threat air defenses.
     The next advantage is a considerable savings in cost.  RPV's are
produced at a fraction of the cost of the multimillion dollar manned
aircraft.5  There are several reasons for this.  Although various models
differ somewhat, in general, RPV's are small and lightweight in construc-
tion.  The vehicles are powered by light, low-horsepower engines.  Systems
required for life support are unnecessary.  Since pilot welfare is not a
consideration, redundancy of critical systems can be eliminated.  These
vehicles travel at relatively slow speeds and have no requirement to with-
stand the demands of supersonic flight.
     The RPV is less vulnerable in flight than the manned reconnaissance
aircraft.  RPV's gain their survivability from being small and quite.
This makes them hard to detect with the naked eye at their normal operat-
ing altitudes.  The small size of their radar and IR signatures addition-
ally works to their advantage.
     RPV's have the advantage of better availability rates than manned
aircraft.  This is true because they are relatively simple systems in
comparison with the RF-4 or OV-10.  RPV's are not encumbered by the human
safety factors incorporated in the design and operation of manned recon-
naissance systems.
     RPV's can be operated from austere locations and require little in the
way of logistics support.  In order to have RF-4 reconnaissance flights
available, advance bases and a great deal of follow-on support is required.
RPV's, on the other hand, can travel close to the infantry, operate from
almost any location, and be there when no other means of aerial recon-
naissance is available.
     There are factors which must be mentioned on the negative side as
well.  They lack a certain amount of flexibility in comparison with
manned systems.  Although manual operation gives the operator freedom to
position the RPV off the programmed flight route, missions tend to be
flown over canned or predetermined tracks.
      The operator sees only the area covered by the video camera.  This
is obviously less than the complete field of vision available to a pilot.
At an altitude of 3,000 feet above the ground the RPV can "see" an area
about fifty square kilometers.  This area can be reduced with the use of
the zoom lens to approximately two hundred square meters to assist in
target identification.6
     RPV's are defenseless, although difficult to detect, and are an
easy target if located and brought under accurate air-to-air or surface-
to-air fire.  Manned reconnaissance aircraft fly with a certain degree of
protection not envisioned for RPV's.  RPV's would go it alone and depend
on their inherent survivability to complete their missions.
     RPV's are manufactured in many countries utilizing numerous designs.
All RPV's, however, can be placed in one of two general categories.  The
first category is the fixed-wing or airplane design.  The second is the
rotary-wing or helicopter version, sometimes referred to as RPH's.
     The Israeli-made Scout is a combat-tested RPV which has seen action
during the current conflict in Lebanon.7   The Israelis deploy the Scout
primarily in the reconnaissance role, but it is capable of performing
additional tasks with different payloads.
     The entire Scout system consists of four distinct parts:  the vehicle,
the launcher, the recovery net, and the ground control station.  These
different parts are mounted on trucks to give it the desired mobility.
The air vehicle has dimensions of approximately twelve feet by twelve feet
and stands three feet high.  The Scout weighs a maximum of 260 pounds-
including a payload of fifty pounds.  It is powered by a single propeller-
type, eighteen horsepower engine.  It's maximum operating altitude is
10,000 feet with a level cruising speed of eighty knots.  It has a mission
endurance of over four hours and a typical operating range of sixty miles.8
     The Scout is launched from truck-mounted rails by a compressed air
system.  A version with wheeled landing gear can operate from rough land-
ing strips.  The RPV is recovered by flying it back into a recovery net.
The control center is a self-contained shelter which is normally mounted
on a standard military truck bed.  The control center contains all the
necessary instrumentation to launch, fly, and recover the vehicle.  The
entire system can be ready to operate within thirty to sixty minutes
from arrival at the launch site.9  For Israeli missions the Scout is
mounted with a stabilized video camera with down-link to ground monitor-
ing stations and a wide-angle airborne camera to provide high-resolution,
panoramic pictures.
      The U.S. Army is in the process of fielding a new RPV called Aquila.
The Aquila system is scheduled to be operational by September, 1987.10
The Army is developing this RPV as a surveillance device but, as in the
case of the Scout, could be modified to perform numerous tasks.  The
Aquila will be used to uncover the enemy's follow-on forces so that
effective fire can be brought to bare and thus disrupt their attack.
    The Aquila is quite similar to the Israeli Scout in many respects.
The actual airframe is approximately twelve by seven feet and has a two
foot propeller diameter.  It carries a maximum gross weight of 220 pounds
and is powered by a twenty-six horsepower piston engine.11  The craft is
launched from a truck-mounted hydraulic catapult and is recovered by
flying it into a recovery net.
    The Army plans to place an Aquila platoon with each of its divisions.
The platoon would consist of four sections, each containing thirteen men,
five air vehicles, and the associated ground support equipment.  One
section would probably be attached to each direct-support artillery batt-
alion.  Over a five year span, the Army hopes to buy 995 RPV's of the
Aquila model.12
    The entire Aquila system is transported on standard five-ton trucks.
Upon arrival at the operating site, the Aquila can be ready for launch in
less than an hour.  Once in the air the RPV can be flown entirely hands-off
with the preprogrammed mode or controlled by the operator through the
manual mode back at the base control station.  This allows the operator
to take a second look at a possible target or enemy disposition.
    Most prominent among the rotary-wing models is the Canadair CL-227.
Designed as a medium range surveillance and target acquisition vehicle,
the Canadair incorporates twin, counter-rotating rotors to propel it over
the desired track.  The primary difference between it and the previously
covered models is its  helicopter mode of operation for take-off and
     The air vehicle stands about five feet tall with a width of two feet.
The maximum take-off weight is roughly three hundred pounds with sixty of
those reserved for the payload.  Typical mission endurance runs from two
to two and half hours covering eighty miles at cruise speeds between forty
and seventy knots.  The Canadair CL-227 has a maximum operating altitude
of 8,000 feet above sea level.13
      Instead of a seperate launch and recovery device, the Canadair CL-227
utilizes a single trailer-mounted take-off and landing station.  This one
trailer provides the necessary facilities to transport, launch, recover,
and service the RPV.  The control station is comparable to those used by
the Scout and Aquila systems.
     The question then becomes, what type RPV is best suited for Marine
Corps use?   The Scout is a battle-proven RPV that can be purchased off-
the-shelf.   Selection of this device will provide an instant information
gathering system with no cost or delay for system development.  Its use-
fulness has been clearly demonstrated against Syrian air defense missiles
deployed in the Bekaa Valley in the summer of 1982.
     If we are willing to wait several more years it is possible that the
Army's Aquila is the answer to our RPV needs.  It offers the advantage of
an American made, state-of-the-art vehicle at a tag-along price.  Unit
cost would be lowered by the extensive buy the Army already has planned
over a five year period.  The Marine Corps could profit from the years of
experience the Army has gained through the test and evaluation program.
     In the final analysis, however, the vertical take-off and landing
feature of the Canadair CL-227 is a capability which is essential for
Marine Corps application.  This system is the most compatible with the
constraints Marines must operate under in their amphibious role.
     To begin with, we need a RPV that can operate from amphibious ship-
ping prior to the assault phase.  This application would enhance the
surveillance coverage of the objective area and provide current pictures
of beach fortifications, key weapons positions, helicopter routes, and
landing zones.  The Canadair CL-227 can be flown from open deck space on
any of our amphibious ships.  The launch and recovery apparatus involved
in operating the Scout and Aquila RPV's prohibit this without major
     While still on the subject of amphibious shipping, the need for
additional space aboard those ships to carry this equipment cannot be
forgotten.  The shortfall in amphibious shipping is a serious considera-
tion whenever acquisition of a new item is proposed.  Because the Canadair
CL-227 requires considerably less support equipment than the fixed-wing
versions, it would place less of an additional strain on this already
taxed asset.
     If the RPV is going to be able to operate where we need it, it will
have to be able to travel with the Marine Corps ground forces.  This means
a light-weight, highly-mobile system that is not confined to rear areas
and hard-surface roads.  Whether towed on its trailer mounted support
platform or helicopter lifted into place, the Canadair CL-227 can be
deployed where it is needed most.
     The Canadair CL-227 is somewhat behind the Aquila in development and
it would take longer to actually field the device.  This additional wait is
justifiable for the added dimension a vertical take-off and landing RPV
brings to the battlefield.  In other words, an RPV specifically tailored
for Marine Corps needs.
     There are many other questions, not addressed by this paper, which
have to be answered in order to properly integrate RPV's into the MAGTF
organization.  The Army has already thought this through and has developed
a plan for introduction of the Aquila into the division structure.  Var-
ious proposals have been discussed in the Marine Corps Gazette as to
where this type of unit should be placed if it was  acquired by the Marine
     The idea of a RPV for the Marine Corps is an idea whose time has
come.  These devices offer the commander a tremendous advantage.  The
ability to see well beyond the FEBA is an advantage that Wellington could
only lament over.  By no means are RPV's meant to replace our existing
aerial reconnaissance aircraft.  RPV's are simply an addition to those
     RPV's can fly the missions that the enemy threat prohibits manned
aircraft from attempting.  When the human factor is erased, there are no
missions too risky to be undertaken.  RPV's are fearless.  There are also
many brave pilots, but we cannot replace them as easily as we can a RPV.
     RPV's supply real-time intelligence which can be fed to the people
who need it the most.  Any advantage gained through RPV's would be lost
if vital surveillance information is  subjected to the maze of higher
headquarters.  Through the video down-link all necessary users can mon-
itor the flight for their own purposes.
     The RPV is a cost effective supplement to current manned reconnais-
sance aircraft and offers the Marine Corps the opportunity to greatly
expand on its present intelligence and target acquisition efforts.  Even
in the high-threat environment of Soviet air defenses, the RPV has an
excellent chance to successfully accomplish the mission due to its small
size, low noise level, and weak radar and IR signatures.  The relatively
low cost of these devices makes those missions a risk worth taking.  One
former Commandant of the Marine Corps once stated, "To lack intelligence
is to be in the ring blindfolded."14  The Marine Corps cannot afford to
ignore this combat-proven system if it is to keep pace with the state-of-
the-art battlefield.
     1Robert Heinl,  Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations (Annapolis:
United States Naval Institute, 1966), p. 161.
     2Tom Blickensderfer, "RPV's:  An Inexpensive Alternative," Marine
Corps Gazette, December, 1983, p. 51.
      3Ibid, p. 51.
     4Ernst Noack, "Drones and RPV's Today and Tomorrow," Military Tech-
nology, October, 1983, pp. 15-16.
     5Blickensderfer, p. 52.
     6Scout Mini RPV System  (Israel Aircraft Industries International,
Inc., March, 1981), p. 1.
     7Noack, p. 14.
     8Scout Mini RPV System, pp. 11-14.
     9Ibid, pp. 11-14.
     10Benjamin Elson, "U.S. Army Considers Aquila RPV Ready to Field,"
Aviation Week & Space Technology,  November 29, 1982, p. 57.
     11Ibid, p. 60.
     12ibid. p. 55.
     13 Canadair CL-227 Unmanned Airborne Surveillance and Target Acquisi-
tion System, (January, 1983), Part II.
     14Heinl, p.161.
Blickensderfer, Tom.  "RPV's:  An Inexpensive Alternative."  Marine Corps
     Gazette, January 1983, pp. 51-55.
Bulloch, Chris.  "Tactical Pilotless Aircraft."  Interavia, April 1979,
     pp. 335-338.
Canadair CL-227 Unmanned Airborne Surveillance and Target Acquisition
     System, January 1983.
Chopping, Doug.  "International Debate on RPV's."  Interavia, December
     1979, pp. 1139-1142.
Elson, Benjamin.  "U.S. Army Considers Aquila RPV Ready to Field."
     Aviation Week & Space Technology, 29 November 1982, pp. 54-60.
Heinl, Robert, ed.  Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations.  Annapolis:
     United States Naval Institute, 1966.
Klass, Philip.  "Israel Demonstrates Mini-RPV Utility."  Aviation Week &
     Space Technology, 4 October 1982, pp. 59-63.
McGrath, Frederic.  "More on RPV's."  Marine Corps Gazette, January 1984,
     p. 13.
Noack, Ernst.  "Drones and RPV's Today and Tomorrow."  Military Technology,
     October 1983, pp. 14-23.
Scout Mini RPV System, Israel Aircraft Industries International, Inc.,
     March, 1981.
Smith, Bruce.  "Israeli Use Bolsters Interest in Mini-RPV's."  Aviation
     Week & Space Technology, 18 July 1983, pp. 67-71.
Yoffee, Wade.  "Send a Scout for Information."  Marine Corps Gazette,
     September 1983, pp. 28-30.

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