Air University Review, November-December 1977
a force of manned and unmanned systems
Major Gene Bigham
CHARLIE FLIGHT, a flight of four strike aircraft, was joined by the remainder of the strike force over Western Europe and began the ingress to the initial point (IP) for run-in to the target. After the IP and approximately two minutes from target, "Charlie" rolled in to the right and released bombs on a heavy concentration of antiaircraft artillery (AAA) and surface-to-air missile (SAM) defenses. The remainder of the strike flight did a separation maneuver and then struck the primary target, a mass armor staging area. Charlie lost one aircraft, but the defenses were sufficiently suppressed to allow the remainder of the strike flight to complete the strike unscathed. The strike flights departed the area and returned to their bases.
"Not an unusual mission," one might say. However, suppose these flights had been controlled by men located not in the cockpits but rather in the basement of the Pentagon, each of them controlling multiple drones through the use of a satellite link. Although this mission is not possible today, given our present technology and development efforts, it could become a future operational reality.
Before proceeding we need to establish common points of reference. The word "drone" is used within the context of JCS Pub. 1 definition: "A land, sea, or air vehicle which is remotely or automatically controlled." Within the Air Force research and development community, this word is used to encompass our unmanned aircraft. "Remotely piloted vehicle" (RPV) will be used only hen specifically referring to a drone that will be controlled by a man during its time of flight.
The Air Force presently employs drones in three opera ional roles. Target drones, such as the BQ -34, Firebee, have been operational for several years. Modifications of the Firebee were employed in low-altitude, high-speed reconnaissance operations in Southeast Asia.l These recce drones have evolved into our other operational drones that are employed by our only tactical drone unit, the 432d Tactic I Drone Group, established at Davis-Mont an AFB, Arizona, 1 July 1976. This group consists of two squadrons: one with an electronic warfare mission, the other a recce miss on. Both squadrons launch the drones from DC-130 aircraft and recover them with CH-3 helicopters. A production decision for a follow-on model of these drones, the BGM-34, is due in mid-1977. This drone provides a modular concept for photo recce as well as electronic warfare missions. This multipurpose drone is based on existing technology.
The Air Force has successfully tested an experimental 55-pound mini-RPV in the role of a harassment-type vehicle, including tests in which it homed in on a ground-based radio emitter. Examination in this area is continuing with funding support from the West German government. 2
An evaluation has also been made of the air-to-air combat application of an RPV. In 1971, a derivation of the Firebee was flown against a Navy F-4. During the engagement, the Firebee averted two air-to-air missiles fired by the F-4, closed to a firing position, and scored a simulated hit on the F-4.3 Currently, no operational capability exists for an RPV to track or fire at another aircraft. This engagement, however, demonstrated the turning advantage available with drones since man's limited g tolerance is not a factor.
Although this is not an all-inclusive examination of ongoing Air Force efforts, it is indicative of a very real interest in the technology. Other services and governments are also investigating drone technology.
Future drone development and subsequent employment appear to be limited only by the resources and imagination applied to drone programs.4 This technology could produce radical changes in our concepts for employing air forces.
Are we in the Air Force ready to accept this change? Although technology has always been a key factor in war, we have experienced difficulty in coming to grips with changes in military technology because we tend to address them in terms of isolated objectives. We must view these technological changes as integral aspects of a much larger military system. 5
The use of drones to complement our manned systems is an area of technological change that we must now seriously consider. As former Secretary of the Air Force John L. McLucas has written:
I believe we are entering an era when RPVs will play an increasingly important role in helping airpower to serve the nation. However, we need to check out our missions to make sure that we are preserving the best mix of different types of aircraft, RPVs, and other systems.6
The Air Force must continue to maintain the proper mix of weapon systems to perform its missions in severe defense environments. This is necessitated by the large Soviet inventory of advanced aircraft and sophisticated missiles and their willingness to provide nations under their influence with these weapons. Also, it increases the probability that formidable air defense could be encountered even in future limited wars.
Yet we are faced with a very real dilemma: we must counter this increasingly sophisticated threat within the confines of limited military budgets.
Secretary McLucas gave the following reasons for his interest in drones:
I would like to review why we in the military are interested in remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs). I see three basic reasons and I think we should constantly keep these in mind when we talk about the future.
First, RPV s can be used to reduce manned aircraft attrition in the very high threat environments. . .
The second reason is to provide an acceptable way to accomplish certain tasks when the mission or area of operation is politically sensitive, and we just don't want an aircraft flight crew exposed...
The third reason, and by far the most important for the future, is to achieve a significant cost advantage over comparable manned aircraft systems. Here lies the key to greatly expanded use of RPVS.7
Cost advantage is the key. Yet, the fact that drones cost less than manned aircraft is not difficult to comprehend. They can be smaller, thus use less material. They do not require sophisticated life support or pilot escape systems, and they use less fuel. Since energy conservation is a topic of great concern today, this area will be examined further.
A recent Rand study attempted to estimate the peacetime annual fuel savings realized in the operation of an RPV compared to operation of an F-4 and A-7.8 They considered an RVP using two engines comparable to that in the T-37 and capable of delivering munitions comparable to that carried by the F-4 and A-7. Rand determined the estimated annual fuel consumptions to be: F-4, 460,000 gallons; A-7, 148,000 gallons; RPV, 2280 gallons. These dramatic savings require some explanation. Fighter pilots require approximately 250 flying hours/year to maintain proficiency while it is estimated that an RPV operator would require only six flying hours/year to maintain proficiency. Thus the 2280 gallons consumed by the RPV in the study is the fuel required to maintain one operator's proficiency. If technology advances sufficiently and it becomes commonplace for one operator to control several RPVs simultaneously, the illustrated fuel savings could be readily realized. In the case of preprogrammed drones, the savings would be even greater since no operator proficiency would be required.
To facilitate determining how drones can complement our manned tactical air forces, the basic tasks that these forces perform must be understood. Briefly these tasks are:
These forces also perform tasks that are integral to the primary tasks of their employment. These additional capabilities are electronic warfare (EW), search and rescue, aerial refueling, and defense suppression.
The tactical forces that accomplish these varied missions must, by necessity, possess the employment characteristics of flexibility, range, mobility, responsiveness, and versatility. Possessing these characteristics, our tactical forces can then be orchestrated to fit the tactical situation. AFM 2-1, Tactical Air Operations--Counter Air, Close Air Support, and Air Interdiction, states:
The composition of tactical air forces is influenced by the air environment and the nature of air targets, whether associated with a pure air campaign or operations in conjunction with a land battle. The quality and number of opposing air forces and surface defenses will determine the number and types of weapon systems needed to gain control of the air and conduct air strikes. The nature of the land battle and the types of air interdiction and close air support targets, their location and composition, will influence the force mix required for optimum support of the area objectives. In any area of operations, the wide range of available firepower and support capabilities permits discriminate application of force to achieve specific objectives.
Both industry and government have, in recent years, directed extensive resources to the study, development, and demonstration of drone equipment and concepts. Also, the Air Force has accumulated considerable experience with drones through acquisition processes and operational employment. It is within the reasoned framework provided by these efforts that the possible uses of drones for tactical tasks will be examined. These possible uses will be categorized under the tasks performed by our manned tactical air forces.
close air support
A vital element of the close air support (CAS) task is the forward air controller (FAC). He may be employed from the ground or an aircraft. Of course, his perspective of the land battle and his ability to see and direct strike aircraft are improved when he is airborne. However, a high-threat environment may make it impossible for him to be within visual range of his target area. It is in this situation that an RPV could be used to provide the "visual" capability.
The RPV in this instance would be a small or mini-RPV. It would weigh less than 200 pounds and be as "invisible" as possible. Design and construction would be optimized to ensure that the mini-RPV was very difficult to detect by radar, that it has a very low infrared signature, produces very little engine noise, and is difficult to acquire visually. The RPV would possess a low-speed capability and would contain a TV monitor (perhaps a forward-looking infrared sensor) and a laser designation capability. It would be ground launched, capable of being guided both from the ground and the FAC aircraft, and be recoverable.
This mini-RPV could possibly be used by the forward air controller in the following manner. Suppose the FAC has been informed that the Army unit he is supporting will be receiving a CAS strike. He discusses the strike with the ground forces over his FM radio and discovers that the situation is tense. Enemy tanks have been spotted by forward observers and are expected to be engaged shortly. The FAC proceeds to the area only to find that the defense umbrella supporting the enemy is making the area too hot for visual recce and control of the CAS strike from the target area.
He backs off to a safe standoff distance and calls the operations center at his Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS) to request launch of a mini-RPV. The alert RPV is launched and flown to a hand-off point by the TASS RPV control center. At the hand-off point the FAC assumes control of the RPV and flies it into the target area. Because of the RPV's survivability, the FAC is able to observe the situation by monitoring the TV coverage relayed from the RPV. He locates the friendly positions and has them transmit with a coded beacon to ensure that the fighters will also be able to confirm the location quickly. Then the FAC guides the RPV over the enemy tanks and evaluates the target array. After formulating his plan of attack, he moves the RPV into an orbit on the friendly side of the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA) and begins to brief the strike flight that has just checked in. The fighters have Mavericks, so the FAC elects to have them stand off during their deliveries. He then utilizes the RPV to relocate the targets and designates a target with the RPV's laser designator, while he has the Army forces transmit their position by coded beacon. The fighters confirm the friendlies' position, the laser designation, and are cleared to expend. They do so from a standoff position, and the mission is a success. Once the target has been hit and, in effect, marked, the fighters could proceed at low level, pop-up, and attack associated targets with guns or other "close-in" munitions. The FAC then flies the RPV to the hand-off point for the TASS RPV control center. The RPV is recovered and prepared for its next mission.
The many facets of this tactical task provide several possibilities for drone employment. Because the interdiction effort is usually directed against substantial targets, the strike drone envisioned for this mission would have to be a rather large vehicle. It would have to be capable of carrying a 2000-to-3000-pound payload in order to carry a practical amount of ordnance for striking interdiction targets. The vehicle should have sufficient navigation systems to provide reasonable accuracy for typical long-range interdiction missions. It should contain a TV capability and a laser ranging/designation feature. The altitude and airspeed capabilities should be similar to those of manned interdiction aircraft as should its radar return signature. It should also have the capability to carry electronic countermeasure (EGM) pods.
As mentioned earlier, drones could be used to reduce the need for manned aircraft to attack heavily defended targets. This benefit of drones could be exploited by utilizing them to attack targets such as airfields, SAM sites, and AAA sites. There are varied employment concepts available for an interdiction drone.
This vehicle could be a drone or an RPV, or it could combine drone and RPV capabilities. If a drone, it would most likely be a "one-way" expendable drone. It should contain a navigational system, such as inertial, with sufficient accuracy to be programmed, before launch, with the route to the target. It could be programmed to arm its weapons automatically after passing a given inertial point. The drone would then fly itself into the target by attacking the programmed latitude/longitude coordinates. This drone could fly at the lowest practical altitude from takeoff to attack.
A variation of this configuration could be a drone with the capability to release its weapons and return to a general recovery area. At this point the drone would decrease its speed, deploy a recovery chute, inflate a "cushion bag," and float to earth for later pickup.
A more versatile and perhaps cost-effective configuration would be an RPV with a modular payload capability, which would employ easily changed packages to provide strike, recce, or electronic warfare capability. Here we shall address only the strike capability.
Presumably a vehicle that can be preprogrammed as well as remotely controlled would provide optimum employment flexibility. One possible use for these vehicles would be as part of a strike force. Four of these vehicles could be launched, joined up, released to fly a preset route to the tar. A force of manned strike aircraft could then join with the drones to strike capability in addition to their own. If this is not feasible, perhaps the drones could flyer at a higher altitude and the manned force to the rear and lower.
An RPV controller would assume command of the drones as they neared the target. In the target area the drones could attack the heavily defended portion of the target while the manned aircraft struck a less defended portion. For a smaller but heavily defended target, perhaps the drones would attack first followed by the manned aircraft. If the target were very heavily defended, perhaps no manned aircraft would be committed; only a large drone strike force would be utilized.
With the combined preplanned and remotely controlled capability, this drone offers maximum flexibility in targeting. A modular capability would enable use of one of the drones as a photo recce system. Flying at the rear of the strike force, it could provide immediate battle damage assessment in its pass or passes over the target.
A Rand study has concluded that RPVs can be more cost effective than manned systems in terms of cost per kill for one of the most demanding strike tasks, attacking SAM sites.9
Another interdiction task that has been costly to manned aircraft operations in the past has been implanting target activated munitions (TAMs). The use of drones, either singly or in flights, may provide a more cost effective method. In addition, if the drones have a TV capability, the RPV operator could do recce simultaneously over an area that is of obvious interest since we had decided to implant TAMs in the area.
A discussion of how the strike drone can accomplish its weapons delivery is appropriate. Will it be able to do the most vital chore--hit the target--as effectively as our fighter pilots? That is a good question, and one that will have to remain unanswered now. However, there are some aspects of the weapon delivery problem that should be addressed in order to speculate on the answer to that question.
The problem is somewhat lessened when we consider laser-guided weapons. The greatest accuracy problem for either manned or unmanned vehicles will be how accurately the target is designated. It appears that an RPV controller safely detached from the target area may be capable of more concentration on the designation problem. This potential advantage could apply to manned systems as well, since an RPV could be utilized to designate for them as well as for other drones.
The problem does crystallize somewhat when we consider accuracy in delivery of unguided bombs. Manned aircraft for interdiction strikes will have either a computercontrolled or manual-delivery capability. Meeting the parameters for accurate delivery of either mode may be difficult for the pilot. If he plans to bomb by computer, he faces two primary problems, both caused by a single factor, the enemy threat. Because of the high threat envisioned for the hypothetical interdiction mission, he is forced to use a higher-release altitude. Therefore, if he has a good system and can expect 15-mil accuracy in this combat condition, releasing at 8000 feet above ground level he can expect to hit within approximately 120 feet of the target. This expected miss distance is compounded by the fact that he has used a higher-release altitude, which means he has less tracking time and a less detailed view of the target before release, resulting in a less accurate positioning of his aiming symbol.
Another factor in considering release distances is that a pilot must pull out using only 4 to 5 g's applied in 2 seconds. This requires substantial altitude and extends the manned vehicle deeper into the dense air defense environment. If RPVs are utilized in this type of mission, certain advantages may be accrued. An RPV would not be restricted to an 8000-feet release altitude because loss of life is not a consideration. Also, the RPV controller may be better able to align the aiming symbol with the target since he would have fewer outside distractions. Further, the RPV may be capable of releasing from very low altitudes due to its ability to sustain many more g's in the pullout. An RPV may be capable of using as much as 10 g's in the pullout with a resultant reduction in altitude lost.
These advantages lead to another spin-off. Considering the same 15-mil system in the manned aircraft: If an RPV could release at 1000 feet instead of 8000 feet, the expected miss distance would be reduced from approximately 120 feet to approximately 15 feet. This means the computer capability utilized by the RPV could be reduced to only a 30-mil system (less accurate by a factor of 2), and the RPV could still expect only a 30-foot miss distance. The RPV operator, when bombing manually, would be faced with the same problems of the fighter pilot. But again, he would be out of the threat environment and could release from much lower altitudes. Problems of one RPV operator's employing multiple RPVs in a target area would be one of the demanding technological developments required.
Another application of drones to the interdiction task offers a stark contrast to the strike vehicle. That is the use of a mini-RPV, similar to that discussed for use by the forward air controller in the close air support role, as a recce/designator for interdiction strike aircraft.
If the mini-RPV is designed to be capable of air launch from a strike aircraft, it would afford this interesting interdiction capability. The mini-RPV could be carried by the strike flight to a convenient holding point for the fighters, perhaps to a prestrike refueling point. Then the mini-RPV could be launched and flown toward the target area. Control after launch could be by the strike aircraft or by data link from an RPV operator through a relay drone.
In either case the TV capability of the RPV would be utilized to find the assigned target. The RPV could then be used to laser designate the target for the strike flight. If laser designation is not required, then weather information, threat information, or changes in target disposition could be relayed from the RPV to the strike leader. Most likely, this RPV would be expendable and not be returned for recovery.
Any discussion concerning possible use of RPVs for counterair operations will have to be very conceptual. However, there are some roles which seem applicable, given the technology to bring them to fruition. For example, consider such roles as augmenting the theater air defense force and protecting the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS).
This counterair vehicle could take either or both of two forms. First, it could be a vehicle capable of employing both long-range and short-range air-to-air missiles. Second, it could be a vehicle that is flown into the target in a manner similar to a missile.
Either type of vehicle could be used to augment theater air defense forces. These vehicles could be based with interceptor units and guided to a hand-off point after launch by a controller located at the unit command center. The RPV could be handed off to an RPV controller located at the Control and Reporting Center (CRC) for employment in the counterair effort.
Protection of AWACS by RPVs could take different forms. Perhaps the same vehicles that are based with interceptors could remain on call near AWACS. During this orbit they will be controlled by an RPV controller located on the ground. If they are required for AWACS defense, control of the necessary RPVs could be transferred to AWACS for employment. Perhaps AWACS could carry its own RPVs aloft, then employ them if the need arises.
This is the one primary tactical task for which the Air Force has established an operational unit. Our tactical recce drone, the AQM-34, evolved from the use of modified versions of the BQM-34 target drone for recce operations in Southeast Asia. This experience demonstrated the applicability of drones to the recce task. A recent study of the capabilities of manned and unmanned recce vehicles likely to be available by the 1980s revealed that both types would be needed for a recce force. 10
The drones that would complement our 1980 recce force must provide better capabilities than today's unmanned systems. The vehicles will have to provide high- and low-speed capabilities in addition to highand low-altitude capabilities. Although one vehicle may not be able to provide all of these capabilities, each type of vehicle considered should provide the maximum possible flexibility. Our present recce drone is capable of air launch, air recovery only; our future force must provide for both air and ground launch.
Given the required flexibility and capability, a future drone force could participate in all levels of recce tasks. They could be employed in the immediate area of the FEBA against first and second echelon enemy targets. They could ease the need for manned aircraft to face the high-threat environment surrounding very-high-priority, lucrative targets behind enemy front lines. Employed as a portion of an interdiction strike flight, they could provide immediate TV battle-damage assessment along with a timely photo intelligence capability. They would also eliminate the need to expose a man to the very hazardous recce mission in politically-sensitive areas.
special air warfare
The capabilities of drones are applicable to the special air warfare (SAW) task, especially in psychological operations. They could perform the leaflet drops and low-altitude public broadcasts required during psychological operations even within today's technology. This capability would be more flexible with the development of ground-launched or air-launched options.
Several tasks are critical to the successful accomplishment of most of the primary tasks performed by the tactical forces. These tasks are electronic warfare (EW), defense suppression, and search and rescue (SAR).
The electronic warfare and defense suppression areas are extremely complex. There are many systems for accomplishing these tasks, and many systems are in development. The entire task becomes even more complex when one realizes our technology must keep pace with the ever changing enemy threat.
In the electronic warfare (EW) role, drones could be employed for jamming in an escort role and a standoff role, or a combination of both. The modular strike RPV discussed as an interdiction vehicle would be the vehicle envisioned for this task. It would be capable of flying at the altitude and airspeed of the strike vehicle and would possess the same radar return characteristics on enemy radar. Several of these drones could be employed with a strike force of manned or manned and unmanned aircraft. The ECM RPV would jam on command of the ground RPV controller by use of a relay aircraft or on command of the pilot leading the strike flight. It is noteworthy to recognize another advantage of combining ECM RPVs, strike RPVs, and manned aircraft into a strike force. Not only do the manned aircraft receive the jamming benefit of drones but their pure numerical chances of not getting hit by enemy fire are improved.
The effectiveness of the strike flight could be improved even more by utilizing either a preprogrammed drone or an RPY, in a standoff orbit, for additional ECM jamming support.
In the defense suppression role, drones could have several applications. Our present operational drones have demonstrated the capability to release chaff in support of strike aircraft. In addition to this support of strike flights, drones could also be used to attack enemy air defenses. They also could be utilized to seek out these defenses and data link target type/position information to the Combat Information Center (CIC) at the Tactical Air Control Center (TACC) for use in generating defense suppression strikes.
The attack RPVs for this mission should be similar to the type envisioned for the CAS mission, although it would not have to possess a laser designator. The RPV envisioned here would be a flying bomb using a TV capability for the RPV operator to search for the target visually. Once the target is located, the RPV operator flies the RPV into the target. This RPV would be directed against "soft" portions of the target array. Troops, radar vans, trailers, etc., would be the types of targets applicable for this small weapon. The enhanced survivability of the vehicle--small size, high g capability, low radar return, reduced infrared signature, and, possibly, armor--would make it very suitable for this demanding mission.
We could also use a very small vehicle in a seeker function. This vehicle could be a preprogrammed drone or an RPV. It would be compatible with an accurate navigational system such as the Global Positioning System (GPS). Once in orbit the vehicle could use a number of sensors to search for emitting targets. This vehicle's position would be tracked very accurately by a ground or airborne station. From this known position, bearing and distance to any discovered targets could be measured very accurately by use of a laser ranging device. This target information could be data linked to the CIC at the TASS for target generation.
For a pure defense suppression strike role the strike RPV or a drone could be utilized. Use of this vehicle would reduce the number of manned aircraft employed against this high-threat type of target.
search and rescue
The search and rescue (SAR) role is a fertile area for drone employment. All of the possible uses for drones in a SAR context would require characteristics similar to those previously discussed.
The most basic employment would be a drone in a preplanned orbit with the capability to home in automatically on an emergency beeper. The ground operator would have the capability of obtaining a very accurate fix on the drone. This coupled with an accuracy readout of range and bearing from the drone to the beeper location would provide in mediate survivor location information.
A drone similar to that envisioned for use by the FAC could then be used to enter the survivor's area and feel out the enemy defenses. Current tactics call for this to be done by the fighter aircraft on the scene. The same drone may also be used to acquire the survivor visually.
Strike drones could aid in the suppression of enemy defenses, lay smoke screens for protection of rescue helicopters, or other support functions. Another possibility would be the use of a drone to drop supplies, etc to a survivor in an area of high enemy threat
THIS DISCUSSION has highlighted the ongoing interest in drones be the Air Force. There are several development and procurement programs being pursued. The Air Force is going to utilize drone: to complement its manned aircraft. In fact that is the situation today. There are two operational drone squadrons within the Tactical Air Command. It is obvious then that drones, within today's technology, can complement manned aircraft in accomplishing tactical tasks. With improvements in technology, their future use appears to be limited only by man's imagination. Several employment possibilities for all facets of tactical operations have been suggested.
As a separate entity, drones can perform tactical tasks. They can complement manned aircraft. But, can they be integrated, as an unmanned tactical force, into our manned tactical force? We cannot do this today. Yet it is only through this integration that the true capabilities and benefits of drones will be fully realized. The key to this integration lies in two areas: technology and operations.
With proper emphasis, it appears that technology will enable us to employ drones in imaginable way. However, the degree to which RPVs can effectively accomplish tactical tasks is directly related to their abilities for large-scale coordinated operations that can be conducted in a timely and efficient manner. Without multiple drone control, the very attractive interdiction strike application of drones appears doomed. If each drone used in strike force employment must be individually controlled, the cost would be unreasonable for the limited operational capability. Work is being done in this area. However, the recent Program Management Directive for Automated Mission Planner (AMP), 1 February 1977, states:
. . . development for a new RPV mission control system was initiated. . . . it was determined that the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) should be used . . . . However, the scope and importance of JTIDS to the overall tactical air control complex has prevented, RPV s from being afforded a high priority in the formulation of the program.
This management directive illustrates the need for the proper emphasis and direction for our drone development efforts if the Air Force is to be capable of integrating manned and unmanned systems. The most favorable impact from the use of drones is reduced cost, and it must be kept in mind through all aspects of the drone life cycle. It is a factor in the design, production, operation, and utilization of drones.
Low cost must be considered by industry and the military alike. Technologies for drones have been demonstrated except for the ability to provide low-cost vehicles. Yet industry says it is possible to achieve drone systems with remarkably low life-cycle costs. 11
The military must realize that in dealing with drones we must develop unique techniques, not reduce manned aircraft techniques for drones. Our specifications, inspection requirements, and maintenance procedures must reflect low life-cycle cost efforts. We must realize that drones are not expected to fly for years as manned aircraft do. Yet there are many subsystems in a drone that must operate perfectly at all times. Even occasional failures of some subsystems may cause catastrophic loss of an entire drone mission. In other areas, we must establish practical yet minimal performance requirements. New and innovative construction materials such as compressed paper, plastics, or epoxy should be considered. High production rates through automated fabrication would also reduce cost. All these possibilities are applicable to thinking of all drones as expendable. We can then view those drones that are designed for recoverable operations as reusable expendables. Perhaps this would aid in meeting the required low-cost thinking.
DRONES present the Air Force with an interesting challenge: A chance to accomplish their mission in a more cost-effective manner but at the cost of a very solid tradition. That tradition is the one of Air Force fighter pilots in the cockpit of tactical aircraft. Now the Air Force must consider placing man in a different position in the control loop. His ability to make decisions, fly aircraft, and deliver ordnance will be maintained, but his physical limitations will be removed from the aircraft. 12 Acceptance of this concept for a portion of our tactical force requires not only development of new vehicles but other basic changes as well.
The Tactical Air Control System (TACS), which is the Air Force component commander's system for control of tactical force employment, must be reorganized to integrate drones. Provisions must be made for autonomous drone operations as well as integrated drone and manned aircraft operations. Drones cannot be simply plugged in to a control system. Removal of the pilot from the aircraft and perhaps remoting the drone system are going to require changes in airspace management, coordination, and vehicle control. 13
The Air Force will be faced not only with force structure decisions but also decisions such as where drones should be based. Would it be practical to base interdiction type drones with an interdiction-capable fighter wing? Would it be better to disperse a drone unit? Also, who would fly drones? Is an officer required? Must the RPV operator be a pilot? Is the only requirement for a pilot during the attack phase of flight? How do we train? These and many more questions will have to be answered.
However, the most basic unanswered question is: What is the Air Force position on the roles and missions of drones? Perhaps a solid position on the roles and missions of drones is lacking to some extent because of the reluctance of pilots to have an interest in a system that could replace them. Unfortunately, development funds will probably not be increased until the Air Force develops a solid position on drones. Drones can accomplish tactical tasks. With improvements in technology they can be integrated, as a force into our manned tactical air forces. They can complement manned tactical aircraft and be orchestrated as the optimum force for the tactical situation. Thus, the development of an Air Force position on drone roles and missions is not a future decision but one that must be made today. The Office of the Secretary of Defense has issued its preparation instructions for the FY 79-83 Program Objective Memorandum stating:
The Services should specify levels and funding over the program period for their drone and remotely piloted vehicle programs. The specific mission intended for each drone and RPV program should be given and the impact that the drone/RPV program has on manned aircraft doing the same mission should be addressed.
Now the Air Force must answer the difficult questions concerning drones and decide if we are ready to accept the changes and challenges effected by drone technology.
1. "The Air Force Maps the Robot Era," Business Week, April 21, 1973, p. 15.
2. Philip J. Klass, "Increased Use of Mini-RPVs Foreseen," Aviation Week & Space Technology; May 17, 1976, p. 58.
3. Paul Dickson, "Air War in 1980s: No Pilots," San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 1976, p. 1.
4. Major W. Reeves Lippincott, Jr., USA, "RPV: Tomorrow's 'Armchair' Giant Killer," Army, May 1976, p. 27.
5. Major General John S. Pustay, USAF, "Every Military Officer Must Think about Change," Air Force Policy Letter for Commanders, 15 January 1977, p. 1.
6. John L. McLucas, "Roles of RPVs in the Air Force," Commanders Digest, January 16, 1975, p. 16.
7. Ibid., p. 12.
8. Report for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Potential for Advanced Technology to Reduce Military Aircraft Energy Consumption for 1975-2000, Santa Monica: Rand, February 1976. Secret, classified by DD Form 254, subject to General Downgrading Schedule (GDS), p. 75.
9. An Analysis of Remotely Manned Systems for Attacking SAM Sites, Santa Monica: Rand, 1971. Secret, not automatically downgraded, p. x.
10. Advanced Reconnaissance Systems Study, Falls Church, Virginia: Analytic Services Inc. (ANSER), April 1973. Secret, classified by DD Form 254, exempt from GDS, p. v.
11. Lieutenant Colonel R. H. Jacobson, USAF, Low Cost Tactical RPVs, Santa Monica: Rand, September 1972, p. iii.
12. Remotely Piloted Vehicles, Final Report, Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, Defense Science Board Task Force, August 1972, p. 26. Secret, classified by Dep Dir (TWP) ODDR&E, and exempt from GDS.
13. Study of Command, Control and Communications for Unmanned Air Vehicles in TACAIR Operations, Final Report, Air Force Systems Command, ESD vols. I, II, III, March 1973, p. 1ff.
Major Eugene F. Bigham is a staff officer in the Directorate of Concepts, Hq USAF. He is a fighter pilot, having flown the F-100 and A-7D during assignments with tactical fighter units in Germany, Vietnam, Thailand, and in the States at Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina, and Langley AFB, Virginia. He was also an A- 7D Stan/Eval officer at Hq Tactical Air Command. Major Bigham is a graduate of Squadron Officer School and Air Command and Staff College.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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