Unmanned Air Vehicles

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Article about the UAV’s

Today’s role of the UAV’s in the world.

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    Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are taking an important role in our aviation history. They have been proving that there are tasks that can be better done with UAV’s. Over the past decade UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) have become the counter-terrorism weapon of choice. Since 2005 there has been a 1,200% increase in combat air patrols by UAVs. There are now more hours flown by America’s UAS than by its manned strike aircraft and more pilots are being trained to fly them than their manned equivalents.


    Drones come in many shapes and sizes. Although Predators and Reapers get most of the attention, they are only part of a large, diverse fleet of unmanned vehicles. What they have in common is that they offer a new dimension in intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance— knowing where the enemy is and what he is doing.

    Some are big aircraft, such as the RQ-4A Global Hawk, a jet-engined, all-weather spy plane, equipped with advanced synthetic aperture radar, that costs more than an F-18 fighter, can survey 53,000 square miles of ground in a day and has flown from America to Australia without refueling. Some are micro- or even (in the near future) nano-sized devices, which may imitate a bird or an insect, crawling inside a house or perching on a window ledge, to send back information. In between are a plethora of planes, ranging from hand-launched aircraft looking like big model airplanes designed to tell soldiers what is happening over the next hill to medium-size catapult-launched aircraft, such as the RQ-7B Shadow that has probably covered more ground and spotted more combat targets than any other drone.

    The UAS Flight Plan assumes that the next generation of drones will have artificial intelligence giving them a high degree of operational autonomy including—if legal and ethical questions can be resolved—the ability to shoot to kill.

    When UAS first emerged, the accepted wisdom was that they would be most useful doing tasks deemed “dull, dirty, dangerous, difficult or different”.  Included in the “dull” and the “difficult” categories were surveillance missions requiring time and a degree of persistence that crews of manned aircraft could not provide. A typical “dirty” task for a UAS would be flying in to observe or take samples after a chemical or biological attack. Missions too dangerous for manned aircraft include everything from probing enemy air defenses to carrying out surveillance over territory where a shot-down pilot could be used as a hostage. In the “different” category is the multitude of tactical reconnaissance missions that small drones can carry out which would be beyond the scope of manned aircraft.


    UAS can also fly for much longer than conventional aircraft. For counter-insurgency or anti-terrorism missions, drones are easier to use discretely than manned aircraft because most of the team required to support them is far from the conflict zone. Training UAS controllers, even those with no previous flying experience, costs less than a tenth as much as turning out a fast-jet pilot. Composite materials and advances in avionics allow the latest aircraft designs to pull g-forces, especially extreme lateral acceleration, that would be too much for a pilot to stand.

    To reduce the workload on pilots, big UAS can already take off and land automatically. They can fly unaided to the target area and monitor much of what is happening on the ground without help from their controllers. At present, each drone has its own pilot. But the US Air Force plans to have a single pilot operating up to four drones at a time. And the aim is to go much further, with largely autonomous UAS programmed to make mission-critical decisions when flying in swarms to overwhelm enemy air defenses. It may even be possible, according to military visionaries, to give drones a form of ethical reasoning, using artificial intelligence. Indeed, because of the unique characteristics of UAS, he may be in a better position to do so. He should have more time to assess the situation accurately, will not be exhausted by the physical battering of flying a jet and will be less affected by the adrenalin rush of combat.


    Some countries are using the Unmanned Air Vehicles for other applications such as agriculture,  Japan has 1565 such UAVs and 6000 licensed operators for them, and they perform about one-third of the agricultural aviation in Japan, covering some 10% of their total rice acreage. UAV commercial sales in Japan amount to about $100 million annually. The Japanese UAV market began with a government- sponsored competition in 1986 to find a way to compensate for the dwindling population of rice farmers, an occupation in decline as the children of this traditional way of life opted instead for urban jobs. Robotic helicopters were selected, and the government subsidized their initial development. By one estimate, each robotic helicopter can do the work of 15 farm laborers.

   

It is generally accepted in the global aerospace industry that technologies required for autonomous capabilities for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are mature enough for more widespread use. Market surveys predict a significant increase in UAV usage over the next five years, when the strong growth in the military applications market would start to settle, while the market for civilian UAV applications is predicted to grow significantly.

    Flight International reported in their 19-25 July 1995 issue the following: “Nearly 8000 unmanned air-vehicles (UAVs) worth $3.9 billion [US$], will be produced worldwide between 1994 and 2003. The reconnaissance market is expected to double in size over the ten-year period,according to the Teal Group’s UAV annual forecast." The estimate does not consider the cost of related hardware such as ground control stations. It only covers air-vehicle costs, which constitute as little as 15% of many UAV systems. This does not take into account services, payloads, and aftermarket parts and those components should increase the forecast amount by at least 25% annually. Finally, at the Shephard Unmanned Vehicles Conference just prior to the last Paris Air Show, UAV potential in Europe alone was estimated to grow by 11% between 2005 and 2014 to $4.9 Billion EUROs.

    More recent forecasts estimates range from The Teal Group - Aug 2004  ( $4.5 Billion a year by 2014 (Military and Civilian), Frost and Sullivan Oct 2003 ( $5.5 Billion Euros by 2012), and Larry Dickerson of Forecast International predicts ($13.6 Billion by 2014 - Massive Growth in 2010) with US firms garnering 50% of this market with growth in market share in a range of  an additional 5010% over the next decade.


    UAV systems offer; scalability, to meet your needs. Persistence, from minutes to months. Flexibility, when and where you want it. Technology, pacing insertion to maintain capability. And new opportunities, doing things that were not possible or affordable before.

    UAVs are used in applications such as: communications, media, imagery and mapping, disaster relief, agriculture, police and paramilitary, fire fighting, power and pipeline monitoring, property protection, research, search and rescue, herd management, oceanographic monitoring, atmospheric monitoring, monitoring volcanoes, border surveillance, pollution monitoring, traffic monitoring, fisheries protection, etc.


    As we get a big picture of the role that the UAV’s are taking in our world today, we can see clearly that the industry is growing very big and very fast, governments as well as civilians are using and adopting the advantages of the UAV’s in our world today. It is a new generation of technology that pushes human technological evolution.