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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are remotely piloted or self-piloted aircraft that can carry cameras, sensors, communications equipment or other payloads. They have been used in a reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering role since the 1950s, and more challenging roles are envisioned, including combat missions. Since 1964 the Defense Department has developed 11 different UAVs, though due to acquisition and development problems only 3 entered production. The US Navy has studyied the feasibility of operating VTOL UAVs since the early 1960s, the QH-50 Gyrodyne torpedo-delivery drone being an early example. However, high cost and technological immaturity have precluded acquiring and fielding operational VTOL UAV systems.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) make significant contributions to the warfighting capability of operational forces. They greatly improve the timeliness of battlefield information while reducing the risk of capture or loss of manned RECCE assets. When compared to manned RECCE aircraft they are cost effective and versatile systems. While reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance, and target acquisition (RISTA) are the premier missions of UAVs, they can also provide substantial support to intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB), situation development, battle management (BM), battle damage assessment (BDA), and even rear area security (RAS) to monitor our OPSEC posture.

Although much of the technology and equipment associated with the UAV are relatively new, the concept is old. Before the US entered World War I, the US Navy (USN) developed a seaplane that could operate without a pilot onboard. Experimentation continued on the concept through the 1920s and 1 930s. The Navy also developed and used a small plywood UAV in the Pacific in World War II to attack heavily defended targets.

The Army Air Corps experienced heavy losses of aircraft and trained aircrews in World War II and thus the Aphrodite Project was conceived. Aphrodite used old B-17 aircraft loaded with explosives, flown to altitude by a pilot, who then bailed out. A second B-17 assumed radio control of the unmanned aircraft and directed it to crash into a target [John F. Kennedy's older brother Joseph was killed when the bomber he was piloting prematurely exploded]. After World War II, drone B-17's were used in atom bomb tests in the South Pacific.

At Fort Huachuca in the late 1950s the Army placed cameras on target drones and developed an operational UAV reconnaissance system. Several years later they replaced the camera with a television system.

By 1964, an Air Force drone reconnaissance program, know as Buffalo Hunter, was under full development. A C-1 30D aircraft could carry up to four drones under it's wings, flying out of Vietnam they would launch them like missiles on a preprogrammed flight over enemy held territory. From the mid-1960s until the end of the Vietnam War, more than 3,000 missions were flown over North Vietnam and China.

The Navy also used UAVs during the Vietnam War. One program, called DASH, was a remote helicopter carrying a television camera and two 250-pound torpedoes was used to detect and destroy North Vietnam supply barges in Mekong Delta waterways. Although this program enjoyed several successful missions, the helicopter flight gyroscopes were not up to standard and the program was discontinued.

By the mid-1980s, a joint project, the Pioneer UAV system, came into being. The Pioneer was used in Operations Desert Storm and provided outstanding intelligence and fire support information to the commander.

By the early 1990s DOD sought UAVs to satisfy surveillance requirements in Close Range, Short Range or Endurance categories. Close Range was defined to be within 50 kilometers, Short Range was defined as within 200 kilometers and Endurance as anything beyond. By the late 1990s, the Close and Short Range categories were combined, and a separate Shipboard category emerged. The current classes of these vehicles are the Tactical UAV and the Endurance category.

Pioneer: Procured beginning in 1985 as an interim UAV capability to provide imagery intelligence for tactical commanders on land and see at ranges out to 185 kilometers. No longer in the Army inventory (returned to the US Navy in 1995).

Tactical UAV : Designed to support tactical commanders with near-real-time imagery intelligence at ranges up to 200 kilometers. Outrider Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) program terminated. Material solution for TUAV requirements is being pursued through a competive acquisition process with goal of contract award in DEC 99.

Joint Tactical UAV (Hunter): Developed to provide ground and maritime forces with near-real-time imagery intelligence at ranges up to 200 kilometers; extensible to 300+ kilometers by using another Hunter UAV as an airborne relay. Training base located at Fort Huachuca, with additional baseline at Fort Polk to support JRTC rotations. Operational assets based at Fort Hood (supported the KFOR in Kosovo).

Medium Altitude Endurance UAV (Predator): Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration transitioned to Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP). Provides imagery intelligence to satisfy Joint Task Force and Theater Commanders at ranges out to 500 nautical miles. No longer in the Army inventory (transferred to the US Air Force in 1996).

High Altitude Endurance UAV (Global Hawk): Intended for missions requiring long-range deployment and wide-area surveillance (EO/IR and SAR) or long sensor dwell over the target area. Directly deployable from CONUS to the theater of operations. The initial Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) managed by the US Air Force.

Micro Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (MAV): DARPA program to explore the military relevance of Micro Air Vehicles for future military operations, and to develop and demonstrate flight enabling technologies for very small aircraft (less than 15cm/6in. in any dimension).

Tactical Control Station (TCS): The Tactical Control Station is the software and communications links required to control the TUAV, MAE-UAV, and other future tactical UAV's. It also provides connectivity to other C4I systems.

Other countries such as Israel, Russia, China and several European countries have also integrated UAVs into military operations with a degree of success.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the need for timely and actionable intelligence underlined the increased need for UAVs. The Chicago Tribune reported in a November 23, 2004 story, that Army Brigades operating in Iraq had the number of UAVs assigned to them increase from two to three. Similarly, each brigade was to be assigned four teams of 22 soldiers to operate the 450 unmanned aerial vehicles reported to be in Iraq.

The Air Force is interested in emerging technologies to develop, field, and operate UAV solutions for applicable military roles across the spectrum of warfare to meet validated needs within specific mission areas based on cost, capability, reliability and suitability. Consistent with these objectives, the air vehicles directorate is interested in proposals for technology development which demonstrate revolutionary potential to cut cost, weight or increase performance. Candidate technologies include: Automated Flight Control Systems, Autonomous Aerial Refueling, Flexible Structures, Low-cost Composite Technology, Multifunctional Integrated Structures and Subsystems, Active Flow Control as well as Preliminary Design Tools for Advanced Technologies.

Uninhabited Air Vehicles may have commercial applications. Mail delivery, automated pipeline monitoring, drug enforcement and border control are but a few examples of the potential commercial uses. In addition, the revolutionary technologies of interest to the Air Vehicles Directorate also have dual use potential. Automated flight control has application to military and commercial UAVs in operations in mixed manned and unmanned air space and to general aviation in terms of reducing pilot work. Autonomous refueling can reduce control-related accidents as well as greatly enhance UAV endurance and range. Flexible and adaptive structures technology can extend the range and reduce maintenance costs for military and commercial high speed transports. Also, increased application of microprocessor technology in smart commodity products will also benefit from this technology by allowing embedding of electronic chips, wiring, power and other devices. Low Cost Composite Technologies and multifunctional integrated Structures and Subsystems have a wide variety of applications in commercial aviation and transportation vehicles where cost and weight are extremely critical for commercial viability. Active flow control technology can reduce drag and wheel well noise on military and commercial transports. Preliminary design tools can increase the effectiveness of all these technologies as these technologies come together in military and commercial products.

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Page last modified: 23-01-2019 13:00:18 ZULU