UAV – Unmanned Arial Vehicle, will only exist if they offer advantage compared with manned aircraft. Contrary to advantages, disadvantages are obvious to some of us as we see and hear everyday. An old military adage (which also applies to civilian use) links the use of UAVs to roles which are dull, dirty or dangerous (DDD). To DDD add covert, diplomatic, research and environmentally critical roles. So, is this the point of UAVs ? Leaving economics of the operation aside, I guess the answer is yes.
Military and civilian applications such as extended surveillance can be a dulling experience for aircrew hence DULL, but the UAV, with high resolution colour video, low light level TV, thermal imaging cameras or radar scanning, can be more effective as well as cheaper to operate in such roles. Other than environmental monitoring over nucler contaminated areas, Crop-spraying with toxic chemicals is another DIRTY role which now is conducted very successfully by UAV.For military roles, where the reconnaissance of heavily defended areas is necessary, the attrition rate of a manned aircraft is likely to exceed that of a UAV.Due to its smaller size and greater stealth, the UAV is more difficult for an enemy air defence system to detect and more difficult to strike with anti-aircraft fire or missiles. Looking at the positive side the UAV operators are under no personal threat and can concentrate specifically, and therefore more effectively, on the task in hand. Power-line inspection and forest fire control are examples of applications in the civilian field for which experience sadly has shown that manned aircraft crew can be in significant danger.
Typically, the UAV is smaller than a manned aircraft used in the same role, and is usually considerably cheaper in first cost. Operating costs are less since maintenance costs, fuel costs and hangarage costs are all less. The labour costs of operators are usually lower and insurance may be cheaper, though this is dependent upon individual circumstances. On the assumption that the disposable load fraction of a light aircraft is typically 40% and of this 10% is fuel, then its gross mass will be typically of order 750 kg. For the UAV, on the same basis, its gross mass will be of order 35 kg. This is borne out in practice.
Recently (as per 27 Oct 2010) Raytheon has tested a new UAV weapon Small Tactical Munition (STM) (0.6m-long (2ft), 13lb (5.9kg) bomb) at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. The dual-mode, semi-active laser seeker and GPS inertial navigation system enable it to engage fixed and moving targets in all weather conditions.
With US army moving its concentration from Irqa to Afghanistan, and continuous use of UAVs in Pakistan tribal areas by USA the demand for small unmanned air vehicles is moving into higher gear as well. US Army plans to buy 3,000 Raven small UAVs with already 2,000 in hand.
From the CIA’s silent war in Pakistan – two UAVs extensively used, the Predator and the Reaper, both made by General Atomics, a San Diego defense contractor. The Predator is the older of the two; the first one was delivered to the Air Force in 1994. By the end of the 1990s, the CIA was using it to track bin Laden. Capable of flying for up to 40 hours without refueling, the drone was a “brilliant intelligence tool,” recalls Hank Crumpton, then the CIA’s top covert-operations man in Afghanistan. Although the CIA was keen to weaponize the drone early on, the Air Force resisted the idea until 2000. Even then, firing the weapons was another matter. The Predator’s firepower is limited, but the Reaper can deliver laser-guided 500-lb. bombs like those commonly found on the F-16 jet, together with Hellfire missiles.
But why use UAV, Times (CNN) published a report in Jun2 2009, The CIA’s Silent War in Pakistan saying:
“If we were sending F-16s into FATA–American pilots in Pakistani airspace–they might have felt very differently,” says James Currie, a military historian at the U.S.’s National Defense University.
“The basic problem with all aerial reconnaissance is that it’s subject to error,” says George Friedman, who heads the security firm Stratfor. “But in a place like Pakistan, errors have enormous political consequences.”
Critics of the drones ask if it makes sense for the U.S. to use them when every strike inflames Pakistani public opinion against a pro-U.S. government that is at the point of collapse. And yet Pakistani leaders like army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Kayani seem to have concluded that using drones to kill terrorists in FATA is generally a good thing. This is a major change in direction; although former President Pervez Musharraf allowed drones to operate, he placed severe limits on where and when they could strike. After Musharraf resigned last summer, the shackles came off. The U.S. struck a tacit bargain with the new administration in Islamabad: Zardari and Kayani would quietly enable more drone operations while publicly criticizing the U.S. after each strike. The arrangement has worked well for the U.S.
While the drones may seem a technological marvel and strategic asset to those waging the campaign on the American side, they don’t impress the local tribesmen. Is the drone war winable ? Question yet to be answered.
Sources: CNN, Times (http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1900248,00.html), FlightGlobal