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UAVs are Kings of the Skies

August 13, 2009
RQ-11 Raven unmanned aerial vehicle

RQ-11 Raven unmanned aerial vehicle

What more proof do we need of this? Air Force News reveals:

The Defense Department has nearly 2,000 “small” unmanned aerial systems deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense officials reported. Most of those are Ravens, which Air Force officials use to support Army and Marine Corps ground forces.

In April, Secretary Gates cited unmanned aircraft systems as an increasing part of the Air Force arsenal, as he recommended that Congress halt production of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet and devote more funding to unmanned systems. The secretary compared the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the Reaper unmanned system, noting that the Reaper has a range of about 3,000 miles and can carry 1.5 tons of weapons — all unmanned and remotely — while the manned F-16 fighter has a range of about 500 miles.

This fiscal year, Air Force officials have spent more money on unmanned aircraft systems and trained more operators than fighter jets and fighter pilots, General Hansen said. Demand for unmanned systems by the U.S. military has increased more than 660 percent since 2004, he added.

The F-22 Raptor may dominate air-to-air warfare, but this ability seems to pale in comparison to the usefulness of unmanned air vehicles. America invests so much in over-kill weapons like these stealth fighters, she has little left for other important roles, but the drones are returning to us the advantage. Versatility in the force is greater than budget-draining niche weapons, however capable.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Hudson permalink
    August 16, 2009 1:52 am

    Defiant, 3″ uavs are already in operation. Incredible, but true, according to a tv show I saw. They have an endurance of an hour or so. Be careful, large insects can kill you.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 14, 2009 8:40 pm

    “Taking the human completely out of the battle”

    Defiant, we aren’t taking the human out. These planes are under human control, or human programming. Just another tool and weapon, just like the manned planes were when originally deployed. the revolution is upon us!

  3. Defiant permalink
    August 14, 2009 6:25 pm

    I wrote that a sam site can take down a lot of cheap planes, and losing 10 19Million planes equals one 100 Million (which can by the way carry a larger variety of payloads) isn’t really more effective.
    The Decoys used by the isrealis against the syrians were remote controlled planes, not sensor carrying uavs.
    Your certainly have the point that you do not lose pilots by fielding UCAS and unmanned planes may be
    – 1Million cheaper by cutting pilot relevant systems
    – a few hundred kg lighter
    – have more freedom in design due to lack of cockpit
    – usage of civil parts (like the mercedes eninge in reaper)
    but then again
    – leech satcom bandwidth (may need new satellites $$$)
    – have problems in ECM environment (dealing with unexpected situations in comm blackout)
    – are terribly in need of satellite services (gps/comm), which are attackable
    – software is not unfailable

    The biggest advantage in my opinion is the freedom in design, opening new roles not possible with pilots, while i think that this point only applies to non combat missions.

    Taking the human completely out of the battle (so that the probabilty for a human to die in a war is really low) would take the fear out of war. War should be feared.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 14, 2009 3:33 pm

    You can’t count the UAVs out until they have been utilized in such an environment. I recall they were used as decoys during the Beqqa Valley in the 1980s against Syrian SAMs. The technology certainly has matured since then. The main advantage with UAVs is you don’t have to send in a precious $100 million+ aircraft, not so easily replaced, or lose an even more precious pilot, to be used for propaganda purposes by the enemy, or worse. It just makes sense that expendable robots would be apart of the first wave of the future SEAD mission.

    All problems can be solved. Right now they are only needed for close support and spying, but this technology is in its infancy and maturing rapidly.

  5. Defiant permalink
    August 14, 2009 9:27 am

    I already wrote that in another comment here, but the reaper/predator cost 10million+ each and as sven said, they are leeching lots of satcom bandwidth.
    SEAD is much more complex than flying a HARM into range, you need sigint to perform this. SAM sites usually have 20+ missiles so you’ll lose probably lose that much as the uav’s speed won’t be enough to escape. An Aesa RAdar can btw easily track tens of targets. The only use for those systems would be to fly thm within sam range so that the sigint plane can pick them up.
    Insect sized UAV are nothing more than a scientific toy in the next 20 years. They lack endurance, processing ability and communication.

  6. August 14, 2009 4:42 am

    Air defence is an important factor for UAVs in future conflicts, and the AD communities should wake up and add some cheap ammo AD systems to their inventory (auto cannons in AD, shotguns everywhere) in order to meet the demand.

    UAVs for DEAD/SEAD are available (projects since around ’80, in service for years – search for “Harpy). Such SEAD UAVs are slow and no threat to AD systems with good hard kill defences, though.

    It’s an old assertion of mine that AD has to wake up to UAVs, but it will wake up – and will bust most UAV niches.

    UAVs are only superior in extreme niches.
    – Extremely risky (here: competition with cruise missiles)
    – extreme endurance (Global Hawk; not cheap at all)
    – extremely small (insect size is indeed in prototype stage)

    I don’t buy into UAVs as wonder weapon replacements for manned air at all. We had that hype already with missiles. The advantages are very limited and the problems are serious if you want to replace combat air with UAVs.

  7. UndergradProgressive permalink
    August 14, 2009 12:26 am

    Sven, with enough UAVs, air defenses are less of a worry, no? Not to mention, compared to a manned aircraft, UAVs are forgivable losses, and can be used to confuse enemy AA and SAMs if used en masse. Also, I imagine that UAVs will eventually be (if they aren’t already) able to serve in the SEAD role with anti-radiation missiles.

  8. Mrs. Davis permalink
    August 13, 2009 8:59 pm

    who cares if the U.S. rules the sky with its spies (UAV) if the Taliban rule the ground with theirs (shadowing motorcyclists)?

    Certainly not the Germans. But the Afghans might. Especially the females.

  9. Hudson permalink
    August 13, 2009 8:51 pm

    I have read that the military is developing uavs the size of insects. If that is true, we could have a new definition of swarming tactics: swarms of tiny uavs attacking sensors and other sensitive parts of expensive weapons systems and humans. How would you like it if an “angry” uav popped up in front of your face? Scary, when you think about it.

  10. August 13, 2009 7:36 pm

    “to deploy” isn’t the same as “to use”.
    At least some units don’t use their small UAVs at all.

    The comparison between a Reaper and a F-16 is ridiculous.
    A Reaper should be compared to an Apache instead. It’s almost as slow, fires the same missiles and cannot survive over properly defended enemy terrain.

    “As of 2009 the U.S. Air Force’s fleet stands at 195 Predators and 28 Reapers.”

    That’s a similar quantity as of the rare F-22’s. A mere 28 Reapers are hardly a strong contribution. So let’s look more at the Predator, which is actually as slow as a WWI biplane.

    And now keep in mind that these few drones already stretch the SatCom bandwidth a lot – there’s no way how these drones could compete with the huge arsenal of manned aviation. New Com satellites would cost a lot (and this cost needs to be considered when you look at large UAV costs).

    Btw, who cares if the U.S. rules the sky with its spies (UAV) if the Taliban rule the ground with theirs (shadowing motorcyclists)? Are motorcycles the way to go?

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