With Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAV) becoming a large part of today’s media, it has also blossomed into a common subject in most American households now-a-days. Although; UAV’s have been around for nearly 60 years and may have been in operation longer than that with missions during the Korean and Vietnam War, but the idea of UAV’s were first introduced in 1883. The earliest idea of aerial photograph was taken using a kite, a camera and a very long string attached to the shutter-release of the camera. In 1898, this technology was put to use in the Spanish-American War, resulting in the first military aerial reconnaissance photos. Over the years UAV’s have taken various roles. Roles from reconnaissance for the military to target practice for the fighter pilots over the years. In the near future, there are thoughts that UAV’s could take its next steps into its biggest role yet, replacing the pilot out of fighter jets and become the primary aerial support for the frontline soldiers.
In today’s military service, each branch has a different use for UAV system. The Navy uses its own for shadowing enemy fleet, electronic intelligence, and also protecting ports and offshore attacks. The Army’s main purpose and use are reconnaissance and surveillance of enemy activity but the Air Force’s primary uses are high-altitude surveillance and elimination of unexploded bombs. With today’s technology and advancement of the UAV’s over the years, in the near future the UAV system will be asked to perform all of these tasks as well as perform all of the tasks that the pilot would carry out. There are many speculations and misunderstandings that all of these UAV’s would fly autonomously and totally leave all decision making into the hands of the system. This is not completely truthful. The main idea of the UAV is to not relieve the pilot of all of its duties but to simply relocate him or her to a location, usually a mission control center, in order to carry out the mission, task or any other duties required. There are options to have the UAV operate autonomously but that’s based on pre-programmed flight plans. This then leaves the idea of UAV’s in the middle of traditional manned aerial vehicles and the sci-fi completely autonomous vehicles.
The main reason for removing the pilot from the cockpit is safety. Having a soldier in the air puts him or her on the front lines and direct lines for enemy air fire. There are no tolerance for soldier casualties so getting them out of the cockpit is priority number one, but along with removing the pilot, you are also removing the situational awareness and quick decision making that a pilot possesses. Such dogfighting style warfare are too fluid and too fast for a drone’s situational awareness, which is based upon a high resolution camera. This camera is only used as feedback to the pilot, who would then make a decision based on that particular live feed. To minimize the time elapse between feeds from system (UAV) to pilot, a 1.8 billion pixel camera is in development. This will significantly increase that visual feed, thus; simulating the pilot being in the cockpit. Although you lose vital situational awareness and decision making, there are plenty of benefits that support the cause of replacing the pilot.
With removing the pilot out of the cockpit, this calls for a redesign of the system. UAV’s are lighter, more efficient, and some can stay in combat for up to 36 hours, if needed. This is very beneficial and crucial because fatigue would not be an issue. Various maneuvers, quick and sharp turns would be a breeze for there are no pilots to endure the gruesome G Force that is present when those maneuvers are performed. Thus, making it ideal for quicker and sharper turns, faster nosedive maneuvers and vice-versa. UAV’s are not only beneficial in a warfare setting but also in everyday living. They can save lives by using its surveillance tactics to locate stranded and injured victims in a disaster. They are also beneficial to law enforcement by giving them access to much needed tactical surveillance and suspect tracking that is vital in a hostile situation.
UAV’s as a whole have taken many responsibilities but continue to revolutionize into a more tactical and practical system that is capable of achieving various missions and tasks without putting the pilot in any harm while operating. Certainly there are many qualities that are removed along with removing the pilot from the cockpit but the pros certainly outweigh the cons. The future of warfare is revolutionizing due to the increasing number of UAV’s being used for various tasks and mission and frankly it is one for the better.
Henze is CEO of SkyHound, which specializes in aerial photography and UAS solutions. If you would like to learn more about them, click here.He is also the Vice President for ExO at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. He has worked with the Mobile Extreme Environment Research Station (MEERS Lab) as well as the Space Technology & Analog Research (STAR Lab).