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Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV)

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) are proliferating across the spectrum of military conflict. NATO has recognized the importance of these systems and is transforming to take advantage of them. Various NATO and non-NATO organisations are working the complex issues associated with UA S operations within the alliance. Principle focus areas include air space management, integration and interoperability, force development, and command and control.

Commonly accepted and understood UAS categories establish the foundation for NATO UAS terminology. Categories facilitate communication and knowledge sharing by providing a unifying framework for organisations with different viewpoints. Various NATO organisations refine standards and doctrine which increasingly include UAS considerations. UA S considerations into NATO STANAGs are better served with a common reference system. Categories can improve NATO operational planning and C2 by providing a common reference for grouping UAS. For operations conducted in non-segregated airspace, UAS categorization may help to establish certification and operational standards applicable to different groups of UAS. Additionally, classification may drive personnel selection and pilot/operator qualification requirements.

By virtue of size, Class I UAS are normally man-portable, hand-launched and operated by an individual controller, and normally have a range of less than 20 miles. They may be tracked using a force tracking system and typically have an endurance of up to two hours. Simplicity of launch and recovery allows a unit to employ Class I UA S assets quickly, within the constraints of airspace coordination measures. By virtue of size, Class II UAS are limited in range and their ability to support large areas of operation. They are typically theatre based, require pre-surveyed launch and recovery areas, and may be tracked using force tracking systems. Simplicity of launch and recovery operations allows a unit to employ Class II UA S assets quickly, within the constraints of airspace coordination measures. Most Class III fixed wing UAS require runways for launch and recovery, although some are catapult launch assisted. Mission focus dictates a forward or remote split operations (RSO) footprint (e.g., phase of the operations, major combat operations (MCO) versus Irregular Warfare (IW)/Counter Insurgency (COIN), supported commander etc.). Class III UA S are the most complex and provide the most capability. They will require more airspace considerations than other classes, leading to airspace management requirements on par with manned aircraft. Depending on weight, power, and size restrictions, this class can be tracked by either a force tracking system or a transponder.

UAVs have been around since the 1960s. The very first UAV used by a European country was the US MQM-57 used by the UK from the late-1950s13. This crude UAV was replaced in the early 1970s by the Canadian CL-89, which also entered service with France, Germany and Italy. Other current EU Member States have been using UAVs on a limited scale. But it was not until the 1990s that European countries first used UAVs in a war zone14, or that most other European countries introduced UAVs. Today, the armed forces of almost all of them operate UAVs.

Since the mid-1980s a number of major technical developments have made UAVs much more effective. As a result they have proliferated tremendously. Several EU countries have used UAVs for decades, although their operational use in combat situations is limited. The EU has a small industrial capability to develop and produce most types of advanced UAV systems, including actual UAV aircraft, its components, the control system and the sensors. The only fields where the EU industry is not strongly engaged are micro UAVs and large, very long-range UAVs (HALE).

EU members have been unsuccessful in exporting UAVs to non-EU members. Most UAVs in service globally are US or Israeli products. The demand for UAVs is increasing, both in the EU and globally. Much of the current EU demand is met by either by US UAV systems or by hybrid Israeli-EU systems. With US systems, generally the complete UAV system is acquired. In the case of the Israeli-EU systems, the UAV aircraft is acquired or licensed produced from Israel and fitted with European sensors.

By 2005 there was a growing capability in UAVs across Europe. European aerospace companies cooperated to produce UAVs and related technologies, which indicated the European Allies’ interest in UAVs. EADS, Dassult and Saab planned to create a combat UAV for European Allies that would be operational in 2009. Germany has been working on a project, the Euro Hawk UAV, which pairs the U.S.Global Hawk UAV with a European-developed electronic intelligence sensor package. This project also demonstrated a remarkable example of transatlantic defense co-operation because the project just tested a new sensor package, and existing platforms such as the U.S. Global Hawk have already been verified under a variety of circumstances. The overall process prevented the duplication of existing platforms andreduced the development of costs and time. The first Euro Hawk was expected to be in service before 2007. France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom all built programs with aerospace companies to integrate UAVs into their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

Most EU members have either acquired or will soon acquire UAVs. Many UAVs planned or in service with EU Member States are not of EU origin, even in those states that have an indigenous industry capable of producing them. And the combined EU efforts are small compared to the US acquisitions. In three years (US Fiscal Years 2004, 2005 and 2006) the US bought 295 UAVs15. In the same period EU members bought less then 100. Budget-wise one can compare the US expenditure of US$2.66bn in just those three years, with the fact that the full UK Watchkeeper UAV program, which covers most of UK UAV acquisitions for the coming decade, will cost about half of that expend.

Thales is a leader in the field of European UAVs, in which it had unrivalled capabilities. The group provides complete ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) service with the Hermes 450 drone for the UK Armed Forces, which have been deploying this UAV in two theatres since 2007. The contract is set to run through to 2010, at which point the Watchkeeper program, Europe’s largest UAV based ISTAR system will enter into operational service.

Among the biggest UAV program ongoing in the EU is the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) program. This program, worth over €3Bn, envisages NATO’s acquisition of a long-range airborne ground-surveillance capability based on four large aircraft and four RQ-4B Global Hawk UAVs. Germany also wants the Global Hawk, but in a SIGINT role – a version called Euro Hawk – carrying a European sensor package consisting of COMINT and ELINT equipment (produced respectively by Rohde & Schwarz and by EADS). Germany plans to buy 4-6 UAVs for around €600m to replace manned long-range Atlantic SIGINT aircraft.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) are very likely to constitute a key capability for the future. They offer a broad spectrum of capabilities that can contribute to various aspects of EU-led military and civilian operations. In the civil domain they would provide surveillance inter alia in the following areas: border control and management; key infrastructure; disasters; environment; and agriculture. In the military sphere they have demonstrated their operational capacities, including for surveillance and information gathering. There are important political and industrial implications that will need to be addressed.

The EU objective is to promote a European approach for developing this key future capability. RPAS are a concrete example of a European comprehensive approach applied to capabilities: while being closely linked to Single European Sky, the development of RPAS can benefit from the various EU instruments and actors (regulation, technologies needed for air insertion and anti-collision, certification). While promoting common employment for the short term solution, there is also an urgent need to prepare a program for the next generation of Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) RPAS. Such a program will be strongly supported by the development of enabling technologies and other activities (regulation, certification, standardization) undertaken under civil initiatives, in particular by the European Commission. Horizon 2020 could contribute to the MALE program through development for air insertion and anti-collision under its security dimension, with a potential for surveillance payloads. There is scope for a public private partnership between the Commission, EDA, Member States and industry to develop this capability.

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Page last modified: 16-10-2013 18:38:56 ZULU