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Unmanned Air Vehicles

UAV operations are expected to surpass manned aircraft operations, for both military and commercial domains, by 2035. The technologies needed to support this transformation are developing rapidly, costs are diminishing, and applications are growing. Nikola Tesla described a fleet of unmanned aircraft combat vehicles in 1915. The earliest recorded attempt at a powered unmanned aircraft vehicle was A. M. Low's "Aerial Target" of 1916. A number of remote-controlled airplane advances followed during and after World War I, including the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, the first scale RPV (remotely piloted vehicle), developed by the film star and model airplane enthusiast Reginald Denny in 1935.

More were made in the technology rush during World War II; these were used both to train antiaircraft gunners and to fly attack missions. Nazi Germany also produced and used various unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAV) aircraft during the course of WWII. Jet engines were applied after World War II, in such types as the Teledyne Ryan Firebee I of 1951, while companies like Beechcraft also got in the game with their Model 1001 for the United States Navy in 1955. Nevertheless, they were little more than remote-controlled airplanes until the Vietnam Era.

The DoD expects its inventory of aircraft, both conventionally manned as well as unmanned, to grow to 27,000 vehicles by 2035, including 8,000 traditional aircraft, 14,000 UAS of all sizes and types, and 5,000 new aircraft with UAS technologies for pilot augmentation or optional pilot replacement. This growth is paced by the introduction of new and more capable unmanned or optionally manned aircraft accomplishing broader DoD missions. The DoD projects that the percentage of unmanned vehicles will grow from 25 percent in total today to 70 percent of the DoD fleet by 2035, including new, optionally manned or pilot augmented aircraft.

The Air Force currently operates about 5,400 aircraft. Less than 5 percent of this total represents unmanned aircraft, and none are optionally manned aircraft. The Air Force projects that its fleet could grow to some 5,800 aircraft by 2035, with almost 60 percent optionally manned or unmanned. For example, replacement of the traditional long-range manned bomber fleet is under discussion to be replaced by an initial new fleet of 80 optionally manned aircraft at a cost of some $100 billion. The Air Force also expects that its large unmanned aircraft fleet will grow to about 750 vehicles, leaving the bulk of the Air Force fleet modernization focused on optionally piloted vehicles satisfying broad mission needs.

The shift in the Navy and Marines assets toward optionally manned and unmanned aircraft will likely parallel that of the Air Force, although the Navy will also employ smaller UAS Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System (UCLASS) shipboard tactical vehicles for surveillance and weapons ordinance delivery. In addition, the Marines will increase the use of tactical UAS for both ISR and weapons ordinance delivery. This should increase the naval and marine aircraft inventory from 3,700 vehicles today to some 4,800 by 2035, including as many as 2,500 UAS vehicles. A much more significant change is expected in the Army in terms of the development and deployment of UAS.

By 2015, over 55 percent of the Armys aircraft are represented by some 6,200 predominantly Small UAS. This number is expected to grow to some 10,000 UAS representing more than 75 percent of Army aviation assets. As optionally manned aircraft will drive Air Force UAS development and investments, tactical UAS platforms that can effectively deliver ordinance will be a notable driver in the future for the Army. This is not unlike the introduction of aircraft in WWI when the initial reconnaissance mission developed into combat roles, both attacking ground targets and air-to-air combat. In addition, the Army is advancing its requirements for larger UAS vehicles, such as the Grey Eagle, for regional theater activities and in some cases may overlap with Air Force missions and vehicles.

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Page last modified: 06-12-2017 17:40:40 ZULU