Title: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: A Brief Look At The United States UAV-RPA Strategic Vision
Authors: Raul Colon
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IV. Limitations

As with all airborne operational systems, Unmanned Air Vehicles had similar limitations as its manned counterparts. One of the main concerns is the weight factor. Payload and fuel capacity are inversely related. As new materials and constructions techniques come into play, they will help decrease the overall weigh of the UAV, thus enable ling the platform to maximize its range and payload capacity. Advances in propulsion systems have the potential to provide the UAV with greater thrust and fuel efficiency. However, this potential exist only to the extent that it is not otherwise offset by the ever expanding mission profile that could drive total weight back to the early levels.

Like its manned counterparts, unmanned aircrafts are susceptible to extreme weather conditions as well as being vulnerable to kinetic and no-kinetic weapon treats. This is relative true about the slow moving, low-altitude, bulgier early generation UAV platforms that were not equipped with next generation survivability systems and/or day and night operation capability in hostile environment. Add to the equation the range limitations of most of the non-kinetic weapon, both manned and unmanned air systems employing these systems must engage the enemy at low altitude, increasing their vulnerability. Like manned systems, the UAV can mitigate this vulnerability through low observable integrated aircraft system design, dynamic mission planning, air-to-air weapon systems for self-defense, electronic countermeasures and other active defense systems such as chaff flares and the ability to call for support from other aircraft, both manned and unmanned ones.

UAV can also be made more “intelligent” and unpredictable in its performance much like the manned systems using advance computer processor and incoming new mission management software that would present a more challenging target for hostile adversaries. Coming on-line now are new airframe designs that would incorporate an investment in airworthiness and survivability consistent with the mission profile. Like manned aircraft, the current UAV platforms systems suffer from shortcomings in reliability. However, as the MQ-1 Predator and RQ-4 Global Hawk system programs transition moved from Advance Concept Technology Demonstration vehicles to full production and operation platforms, field mishaps rates declined in late 2004. From 1999 to mid 2004 the average accident rate for both the Predator and Global Hawk systems was approximately 24 mishaps per 100,000 flying hours. This treat had gone downward ever since then. As improve operator display capabilities, a more advance flight control, including the most needed automatic take-off and landing control for the MQ-9 platform; as well as increase training come on-line, this downward trend will likely be sustained for the foreseeable future.

The reliability aspect of the project is directly tied up to cost. Repairing and refurbishing UAV platforms quickly are an expensive proposition. As redundant subsystems are incorporated in the UAV to prevent accidents, reliability will increase. For example, most current UAV and RPA platforms are single-engine systems. Twin-engine systems may prove to be more reliable in the battlefield. But the need for reliability must be balanced against the added cost to the overall program, weight and complexity. At the same time, improve crew training, increase operational experience and advances in flight control software are resulting in the decrease above mentioned. The Air Force must continue to invest heavily in human-platform interface, increase operator and maintainer training and the development of new career paths. This kind of investment will result in increase system flexibility and to a continued reduce number in mishaps situations attributed to human factors.

In the near future, it’s unlikely that unmanned platforms will demonstrate the same reliability as their manned counterparts. The ever expanding threat environment and the accelerated pace of incoming technology upgrades, create their own set of challenge to the Air Force. Current aircraft, including unmanned ones, are limited somewhat in their payload capacity and mission profile. As current enemies use commercially available technologies with a short-cycle, future weapons platforms must be able to adapt quickly and incorporated new capabilities. The Air Force must find a way to adopt and integrate advance systems as quick as possible before the next major leap in technologies make those systems obsolete. They should explore new promising technologies such as lighter than air platforms and near space aircrafts, morphine structures, advance propulsion systems, advance human interfaces, and direct energy systems. Also, developmental investment should be made in the defense of those systems, because current and future adversaries might do the same in the future.

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