Follow up to COL Chris Carlile's UAV/UAS 25 Year Roadmap Podcast

Contributor:  COL Christopher Carlile
Posted:  04/27/2010  12:00:00 AM EDT
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The following responses are from COL Christopher Carlile, Director of the Army's Unmanned Aircraft Center for Excellence.  He did not have time on his IDGA Tip of the Spear Podcast to cover all questions posed by readers so this follow-up addresses further inquiries into the future of UAV/UAS.

1. What size UAV seems to be preferred in Afghanistan by the troops on the ground?

A:  The preference is always for unmanned aircraft systems coverage and support when operating in any part of the country. There is really no size preference, as each of the various unmanned aircraft systems provides its own unique advantages with its given limitations. One of the key things we hear constantly in our feedback from commanders and ground troops is the request for more or longer flight time capabilities. Nearly everyone asks for the aircraft to have longer flight times when on station. UAS are in high demand by the warfighter on the ground, providing commanders the information they want when they want it in real or near-real time.

2. Do you see a role for UAS in civilian Airspace?

A:  As history has witnessed with previous military technological advances, there is a good probability that many of the military uses of unmanned aircraft systems will migrate over into the civil sectors.  In Japan there are already rotary wing UAS platforms being used for aerial agricultural crop spraying. In England, smaller fixed wing UAS are being used for monitoring road traffic and congestion, and for tracking suspicious or illegal behaviors by motorists. Currently here in America, the U.S. Border Patrol is using civilian versions of unmanned aircraft to monitor vast stretches of the border area between Mexico and the U.S. Just as we have seen the role of the military medical evacuation helicopter transition over to the civilian sector with mercy flights and emergency medical services, there will probably be a variety of uses or roles for unmanned aircraft in the future as well. For the Army, the UAS Roadmap will continue to influence how the Army fights, and UAS support to current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is paramount.

3. If so are there plans to get FAA approvals and anti-collision systems standardized?

A:  The FAA is now working with the Congress, the Defense Department, Homeland Security and NASA to determine the means and requirements for the integration of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System.  The Army is currently developing a Ground Based Sense and Avoid (GBSAA) radar system that will facilitate unmanned operations within the National Airspace.  Airspace integration is one of the most important issues with respect to unmanned operations and must be quickly addressed so that UAS units can train within the continental United States.

4. Could you comment on the relationship between the Army UAS Roadmap and other documents like the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap, the Joint CONOPS for UAS, and Service UAS roadmaps like the Air Force's Flight Plan and the planned Navy Unmanned Systems Sail Plan?

A:  Each service has written or is in the process of writing their specific unmanned aircraft systems strategy.  All of the Roadmaps are nested with the Department of Defense’s overall UAS Roadmap, which provides the broader and strategic guidance.  Each specific service Roadmap addresses issues that are unique to that service.  As an example, the Army is typically responsible for taking and holding ground, while the Navy is responsible for operations which include above, on, and below the water’s surface.  Each environment and mission presents specific challenges for launching, operating, recovering and maintaining unmanned aircraft systems.  In addition to nesting with the DOD Roadmap, each service Roadmap is nested with Joint and service specific doctrine and future concepts.

5. UAV technology is due to expand rapidly over the next few years.  It will become more inexpensive to attain and maintain.  Other nations will be rapidly acquiring this technology for their own pursuits.  China already has several UAV variants.  Do you see a time in the near future where it will be necessary for UAVs to begin to employ offensive air to air capability to defend themselves?  Or do you think that we will be able to produce them cheaply enough that this will not be considered a factor?

A:  As more and more allies and other nations pursue the development and use of unmanned systems – be it air, ground or underwater – we will be studying and evaluating means and methods to ensure the survivability of our systems.  Part of our UAS strategy is the development of capabilities to counter threats to our systems.  One of the Army’s main themes is reducing risk to the Soldiers on the ground or in the air.  UAS, the “eyes of the Army,” provide a unique capability and limit enemy exposure for our warfighters.  We will continue to protect our systems through improvements to the air vehicles, ground control stations, and uplinks.  Our most prized possession remains our highly trained Soldiers so losing an unmanned system is always preferable to losing a Soldier.

6. Do current UAV’s have the capability of flying in formation?

A:  So far we have not had a requirement or a need to conduct formation flights of our unmanned aircraft systems. The current mission requirements of unmanned aircraft are to operate in a specific area or on a given mission, which does not require the need for unmanned aircraft to fly in formation.  The Army UAS Roadmap does outline the possibility of autonomous UAS in the future that may have the ability to fly in formation.

7. Do you see the expanding use of UAV’s as a sign of a broader change in the conduct of war.  As it applies to less human casualties in the wars of the future for pilots as well as ground forces?

A:  We are seeing an expanded use in unmanned aircraft and other systems as a result of new capabilities they bring to the commander and ground troops. As mentioned, one of the advantages is now you can use an unmanned system to conduct missions that are or could be high risk, or potentially more dangerous due to environmental factors or enemy threat capabilities. We see teaming of manned and unmanned aircraft, and unmanned and unmanned systems as providing commanders with more options in executing kinetic and non-kinetic mission objectives.  We do not see that human interaction will be removed from the UAS processes but we do see the need to minimize our Soldiers’ risk to direct enemy contact.

COL Christopher Carlile Contributor:   COL Christopher Carlile

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