As Unmanned Aircraft Systems Proliferate, Investors Struggle to Keep Pace
A recent market report
by the Teal Group predicts that the worldwide market for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles will hit $94 Billion in 2011. Pakistan is ramping up its internal UAV production programme and Ministers in the UK have warned that the country is headed towards routine use of UAVs in policing operations. Some police forces have been trialling such vehicles since early last year, and despite setbacks in the courts due to improper operating licences, look set to expand use as numbers of front line police drop.
All about the bottom line
Why the rush to expand UAV use? Unmanned systems are cheap. Unlike conventional aircraft, they do not need a physically present crew, and tired operators can be swapped out for fresh ones in mid air. Unlike aircraft, they have long loiter time – Qinetiq has recently tested a solar powered RPA
which flew for 336 hours uninterrupted. This changes the impact that an air component can have on a military campaign; whereas conventional air forces mostly operate in a strike package, with little loiter time, UAVs can provide over-watch to ground forces, supplementing their firepower, if need be, with stand-off weapons.
Effectively, this means that the problem of an air force being able to take ground but not hold ground – first identified by Air Marshal Duhaye in the 1920s – is now close to being obsolete, since the cost of rotating UAVs in and out of a battlespace to provide a FORCAP or intelligence over-watch is orders of magnitudes less than doing the same with manned aircraft. With a suitable rotation of platforms and crew, there is now no reason why the air order of battle (AOB) should not feature a permanent UAV presence. UCAVs are also deadly in their own right – numerous strikes over tribal areas of Pakistan by the US Air Force using Predator UAVs attest to the effectiveness of having an air component with a tiny support footprint which is able to deploy heavy weapons.
These numerous advantages mean that significant resources need to be directed into training pilots who will never actually sit in a cockpit. This is something of a double-edged sword; most training of this type can be carried out using existing simulators and even ordinary computer systems (suitably re-programmed). Operators do not have to be rescued if their RPA is brought down, nor do they need survival or escape-and-evade training. Training can be done outside of air bases, and operations are often conducted via satellite uplink. The physical strain on operators is orders of magnitude less than on air pilots; the turnaround time (time between sorties) for an RPA operator is therefore less. Likewise, operator training is cheap compared to training a full pilot.
Welcome to UAS operator training
On the other hand, new recruitment streams are needed. One cannot simply put a fast jet pilot in front of a UAV uplink terminal and expect miracles straight away. Some re-training is still necessary. The US Air Force has had success with this by “recycling” pilots of retired jet types who do not retrain for other types, but new blood is still needed, which does mean extra cost.
Restructuring the training component of a force in this way also takes effort. At a higher level, battlespace commanders must ensure that their UAV operations are properly integrated into their force structures for maximum effectiveness and efficiency, and that means a level of retraining also, since the different capabilities offered by UAVs also lead to a change in doctrine. The overall effect is one of snowballing requirements, some of which, it must be said, have already been overcome.
Since, realistically, any branch of the armed forces may operate unmanned systems, inter-service relationships also become a factor. Who operates what? Who has command? Who is responsible? Where existing forces’ relationships are well defined and branches are accustomed to operating seamlessly with each other, this should not be a problem; where significant inter-services rivalries exists, so does the potential for integration to be fraught with internal politics, inefficiencies and sub-optimal outcomes. Overall, the institutional health of a nation’s armed forces can be weakly assessed by how well and how quickly it integrates new technology and ideas; those interested in gauging military effectiveness on a large scale should watch closely to see how well high-volume future UAS adopters cope with the challenges of restructuring and training.
Source: Defence iQ