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Flyers and UAVs Team Up

January 10, 2010

The RQ-7B Shadow 200.

As I’ve long argued, robots are here to serve man, not replace him! Before you joke about the connotations of that last statement, here is proof from DoD Buzz on how unmanned aerial vehicles are enhancing the already impressive abilities of Army pilots:

[A recent study], done as part of the service’s unmanned aerial systems roadmap, found that manned systems located 70 percent of targets. Combining manned helicopters and unmanned aerial systems (Shadows, for the purposes of the study) led to a sharp increase to 90 percent of targets found and, presumably, killed. That’s the word from Col. Chris Carlile, who is leading the effort to build the Army’s UAS roadmap…

Carlile said one of the sparks for increased effectiveness was the ability of a Shadow UAV to fly point, say, 10 kilometers ahead of the squadron and cue the piloted Kiowas to take out the enemy before the helicopters were spotted.

Wonder if they have the UAV controller within the Kiowa? Then the team could extend their operating radius. This seems to be a strong advocate for pilots to embrace the UAV concept, if the tacticians can think of new ways to deploy them together, manned and unmanned. Could be the drones will eventually displace the pilot altogether, but certainly not yet!

Hat tip to Lee Wahler.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Mrs. Davis permalink
    January 11, 2010 3:51 pm

    CG has the invaluable advantage of less budget.

  2. Chuck Hill permalink
    January 11, 2010 12:27 pm

    The Coast Guard is piggy backing on other programs including Fire Scout and Preditor.

    Unlike the Navy, the CG has required at radar for their version of the Fire Scout and that is being tested.

    It will be interesting to see how the assets are organized and assigned.

  3. leesea permalink
    January 10, 2010 11:47 pm

    Anybody want to bet whether the USCG or USN will have their UAVs operational IOC first? I am betting the Coasties will they are dovetailing on CBP which is already getting its second generation into operation. While the USN is still testing.

  4. Distiller permalink
    January 10, 2010 11:31 pm

    So far, at least for the USAF, it doesn’t look like UAV *cost* “pilot” jobs, currently they more *create* pilot jobs. One guy who flies, one guy who does sensors, one guy who stands behind the other two guys and watches them. And if weapons are involved, another two guys sit there. The concept of single “crews” controlling multiple UAV hasn’t come too far yet. Where jobs might already be lost is in maintainance, though probably only in airframe related jobs, not so much in electronics. No, so far the USAF is a good union and has protected its members (even gets them “combat” status while safely sitting at Creech). Which is one of the major reasons (at least equal to the technical and legal ones) why we don’t really see systemic advances and fielded truely autonomous UAV and see mostly remotely piloted UAV instead.

  5. Matt permalink
    January 10, 2010 11:30 pm

    MasterGunner/ Mike,

    Objectively, I think UAS at its current stage of technology that it can act as as useful augment to manned aircraft, by picking up more of the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks currently performed by manned aircraft (e.g. ISR, MIW, ELINT ). I can’t currently see UAS picking up the figher mission (needs faster reaction time), nor search-to-kill ASW (too much bandwidth).

    But speaking as a naval aviator, even with the coming “unmanned revolution,” I’m not too concerned about my job prospects through retirement for at least two reasons:

    1. Many non-aviators equate “unmanned” with “autonomous” — that just isn’t the case. We’re a long way from autonomous! If anything, UAS like BAMS or Fire Scout will require more manpower than comparable manned systems, simply because of their flight endurance. Global Hawk has shown that problem – the USAF is scrambling to find enough pilots, weapons systems operators, sensor operators, intel analysts, etc.

    2. Flight operations are inherently complex, particularly when you consider airspace rules. Right now in Iraq and Afghanistan, this isn’t a real problem b/c airspace is all military controlled. Once we begin operating UAS regularly in int’l airspace, the FAA and ICAO won’t particularly care for all these UASs buzzing around in the same airspace as manned civil traffic — at least not without experienced, instrument-rated pilots at the controls.



    “They [naval aviators] call themselves aviators. They think they’re better than pilots.”

    -The Right Stuff

  6. DrRansom permalink
    January 10, 2010 9:49 pm

    Actually, MasterGunner, it appears that the airforce is already reducing its fighter strength and replacing them with UAVs. So, in some sense, there are people loosing their jobs because of UAVs. Just watch, the number of manned fighters will decrease, as some are replaced by more advanced UAVs, especially what will come in the MQ-X competition, when they move to jet propelled combat UAVs. UAVs that will be capable of operating in a somewhat contested environment, if only by virtue of their speed.

    But, that is neither here nor there, because the real question is which is better: all manned aircraft or a greater, numerically, manned and unmanned mix.

  7. January 10, 2010 8:30 pm

    This is correct. The manned platform/UAV is not a zero-sum game. This is how some of the aviation folks are looking at this. They believe that their jobs are going away and that’s why they are fighting tooth-and-nail against the UAV.

    This is not, repeat not going to happen.

    Let me use an anology. There are those who remember the myth of the so-called “paperless” work environment. Everything was going to be done on computers and all the books and files were going away. Some folks will remember that some outfits also implemented the concept. I experienced this. We were told to cleanout our file drawers and purge all our paperwork because the “wave of the future” was coming. So we did.

    Well, the future arrived and after a year, we had BOTH the paperless office and paper documentation to boot.

    When people get all excited that this is the end of manned aviation, I just say it isn’t going to happen. In the end it will be a balanced force of both manned and unmanned aircraft.

  8. leesea permalink
    January 10, 2010 6:31 pm

    Its not an either/or thing. I think the part that is being missed here is that hunter-killer teams of UAVs and helos can be very effective. Using the attributes of both. So for instance a team of two Fire Scots and one H-60 on some ship with a compatible deck would work in conjunction with shipboard sensors and boats to propsecute local targets. Use the attributes of both unmanned and manned aircraft.

  9. January 10, 2010 3:19 pm

    All good….. in a permissive, clear WX, non-jammed air environment.

  10. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 10, 2010 2:43 pm

    Thanks MG! Thats why I say the pilots should embrace the UAVs as a way from saving manned airpower from completely disappearing. We’ve been told machines would replace man since long before our day and it has yet to happen.

  11. January 10, 2010 2:07 pm

    What the manned platform minds cannot comprehend is the force multiplier all of these UAV systems offer. In their world, you cannot have extremely skilled people doing brave things without being “in” the platform.

    What’s completely missed is that most of the time, a human is not needed in the platform to do things. Most of the things that manned platforms can do, can also be done by UAVs. I’m taling about the more mundane things that require long hours in the air doing “stuff” that’s repetitive and simply boring — but is important to do. Humans don’t do repetitive and boring tasks well. These are the kinds of jobs that are prefect for the UAV. If your UAV controllers get tired or need to take a break or a head call, another controller can rotate into their seat. Likewise, you don’t have to worry about feeding the crew or other physical accomodations for them.

    The first UAV’s were used in combat during the Vietnam war and they saved the lives of numerous aircrew by simply going in and getting the recon done with no loss of life. If the UAV (then called a ‘drone’) was shotdown, you just bought a replacement and sent it in. There was no need to mount an expensive and dangerous combat SAR mission to rescue the crew.

    I understand the mindset of the aviation community who consider the UAV as a threat to their continued existence. However, the UAV will always be a supplement and not a replacement for manned platforms that have become increasingly sophisticated (and expensive) as the years roll on. Likewise, aircrews are expensive to train and keep trained to do their jobs. Aircrews are best used in situations where the human mind is required to adapt to the changing situation; UAVs are more suited to the more mundane and routine things.

    The fact remains, however, that the majority of aviators recognize the importance of the UAV at the intellectual level, but at the gut level they consider it a threat to their existence. Until this conflict is resolved, you’re going to see a lot of covert resistance to the employment of large numbers of UAVs.

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