Unmanned Aerial Vehicles UAVs
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAVs), are unpiloted aircraft that can be flown via remote control or on pre-programmed flight plans. Although UAVs have existed since World War I, interest in them only began to take off in the 1980s and 1990s with the development and miniaturization of appropriate technologies such as smaller computers and Global Positioning System (GPS) devices.
Today, UAVs are now regularly deployed to perform a variety of critical battlefield functions, including:
- Reconnaissance and remote sensing using electromagnetic spectrum, biological, and or chemical sensors.
- Transportation of payloads - either internally or externally.
- Precision air strikes of ground targets - especially those located in sensitive areas.
- Search and rescue type operations.
Thus, each armed service sees a potential battlefield use for UAVs; however, their development has also led to bitter battles between the various armed services (most notably between the Army and the Air Force) as each service feels threatened if another service were to be in complete control of them. In principal, the Army has recognized that the Air Force has both the responsibility and a requirement for strategic level UAVs while the Air Force has recognized that the Army has a need for more tactical level UAVs. Furthermore, it is generally recognized that there is a need for common ground stations, common training standards, and common hand-off procedures and thus, the two services are looking at ways to merge and accelerate their respective UAV programs.
UAV Programs or Aircraft
A number of UAVs with different characteristics and intended uses have already been developed and produced for or are under development for each of the armed services. Examples of Air Force UAV programs or aircraft by intended usage include the following:
- Small or micro UAVs include the Battlefield Air Targeting Micro Air Vehicle or BATMAV developed by defense contractor AeroVironment, Inc. and the Desert Hawk Small Unmanned Aircraft System developed by defense contractor Lockheed Martin.
- Medium altitude and long endurance (MALE) UAVs include the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper both developed by defense contractor General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI).
- High altitude, long endurance, and conventional UAVs or HALE UAVs include the RQ-4 Global Hawk developed by defense contractors Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and L3 Comm.
- High altitude, long endurance, and low-observable UAV included the RQ-3 DarkStar developed by defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Its development was terminated (however, there are reports that it is still in development as a so-called “black project.”)
Examples of Marine Corps UAV programs or aircraft by intended usage include the following:
- Small or micro UAVs include the Wasp III developed by defense contractor AeroVironment, Inc. and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
- Low altitude and long endurance UAVs include the Dragon Eye and the Raven B developed by defense contractor AeroVironment, Inc.
- Medium altitude and long endurance (MALE) UAVs include the ScanEagle developed by defense contractors Boeing and Insitu.
- Medium ranged tactical UAVs included the Pioneer UAV originally developed by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) more than two decades ago. In July of 2007, the Marine Corps announced that it will retire its aging Pioneer fleet and transition to the Shadow Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System developed by defense contractor AAI Corporation.
- Low altitude and long endurance UAVs include the Raven B developed by defense contractor AeroVironment, Inc.
- Short Range Tactical UAVs include the RQ-7A/B Shadow 200 developed by defense contractor AAI Corporation.
- Medium range tactical UAVs include the Hunter RQ-5A / MQ-5A/B originally developed by defense contractor TRW (now Northrop Grumman) and Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) and the IGNAT-ER Long Endurance Unmanned Vehicle developed by defense contractor General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI). However, the Army is currently transitioning to the MQ-1C Warrior (an upgraded version of the MQ-1 Predator) developed by GA-ASI and funded by the Army.
Examples of Navy UAV programs or aircraft by intended usage include the following:
- The Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff UAV developed by defense contractor Northrop Grumman are designed to take off and land vertically from any aviation-capable warship.
- High altitude UAVs include the RQ-4A Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration system developed by Northrop Grumman.
Major UAV Defense Contractors
Defense contractors involved in the development of UAVs or technology for UAVs include the traditional defense and aerospace heavyweights such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Honeywell. However, defense contractor heavyweights have traditionally seen UAVs to have low profit margins compared as they tend to be ordered in small batches and are relatively inexpensive when compared with manned aircraft. Thus, the development of UAVs has also been a boon for smaller or lesser known aerospace and defense contractors who have largely taken the lead in their development and production. Hence, the industry remains largely fragmented (much like the early days of the aircraft or auto industries) with at least 50 US companies, government agencies, or academic institutions (plus additional developers overseas) who have developed UAV designs or prototypes or have UAVs ready for production or are already in production.
The following defense contractors are worth noting as they have established UAV platforms and systems:
- Established in 1953 five years after the creation of Israel, the Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) is a global aerospace and defense contractor and a leading developer of UAV technology and systems with 34 UAV customers on four continents. Major UAV systems developed by IAI include the Heron, I-View, Naval Rotary Unmanned Air Vehicle (NRUAV), Searcher Mk.II, Bird Eye 400, Bird Eye 600, Mosquito, Ranger, Hunter, Scout, and the Pioneer. In addition, IAI develops airborne and ground data terminals for UAV communications.
- Founded in 1950 and currently an operating unit of Textron Systems Corporation, AAI Corporation is a global developer of aerospace and defense technologies including tactical UAV systems, training and simulation systems, automated aircraft test and maintenance equipment, armament systems, aviation ground support equipment, and logistical, engineering, and supply chain management services. AAI is the creator of the Shadow Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems (TUAS) and is a subcontractor on Honeywell’s Micro Air Vehicle program. In addition, AAI has developed several common ground control systems including the Army’s One System Ground Control Station, the One System Portable Ground Control Station, and the One System Remote Video Terminal.
- Founded in 1971, AeroVironment, Inc. is a vehicle systems pioneer having developed more than 30 groundbreaking vehicle systems such as the Solar Challenger, the Sunraycer, and the General Motors Impact. Since 1986, AeroVironment has developed UAV systems including the Pointer (the first micro UAV for military use), Raven, Dragon Eye, Puma AE, Wasp, and so-called Stratospheric Persistent UASs (extreme-endurance stratospheric aircraft). In addition, AeroVironment has also developed a common compact and portable ground control systems for its series of UAVs.
- An affiliate of General Atomics, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) is the developer of the groundbreaking Predator - a UAV series that has logged over 435,000 flight hours with over 80% of them in combat. GA-ASI is also the developer of the I-GNAT, I-GNAT ER/Sky Warrior Alpha, Sky Warrior, and the Predator B UAVs. In addition, the defense contractor has developed a series of ground control stations and sensor systems and provides field operations support for UAVs.
- Founded in 1994 to develop micro robotic aircraft for offshore weather reconnaissance, Insitu specializes in the design, development, and manufacturing of UAV systems. Insitu is the developer of the ScanEagle (developed in partnership with Boeing), Insight, GeoRanger, and Integrator UAV platforms.
by John Udovich for Defense Ventures