One of the most intriguing aviation topics, especially in the Military branch, is UAVs’ integration and operation (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). Today I want to share some first insights about using this technology in Military Aviation together with some expert overview about the increased use of this technology.
A quick introduction to UAVs
Military institutions are increasing the use of UAVs for their operation. UAVs and manned aviation’s main difference is that the person who pilots the UAV is not inside the cockpit but controls the machine from a ground control station. Therefore, human interference is related to aircraft operation. Simultaneously, the flying component is ‘uninhabited.’ The entire ecosystem is known as or UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems), including the ground component for these operations. Regardless of the crew location, UAS must comply with regulations and procedures, precisely as if the human factor were operating on board. The elements composing a UAS are the following:
- UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle)
- Ground Station
- Datalink (The connection between UAV and the Ground Station)
- Human operator (located at the ground station)
Opportunities and threats of UAVs
Based on the initial description of UAS, we could identify some potential opportunities and threats that can implicate consequences in a proper operation.
Let’s start with the opportunities for the military by using UAS:
- Cost savings in terms of safety equipment required for the onboard crew also transferred to a reduced fuel consumption due to reduced weight for the operation.
- It can facilitate battlefield intelligence with reconnaissance missions without endangering human pilots.
- Increases the capability for high-risk missions.
- In search and rescue missions can also facilitate identifying the targets by using heat-sensing equipment and alert to the ground teams, especially in areas with hard access or complex visibility.
- Companies such as Airbus are currently developing UAVs offering multi-mission capabilities such as Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) in homeland operations. These operations incorporate all air and space power applications to detect, preempt, respond to, and mitigate incidents and threats to the national territory.
These benefits can improve enormously the capacity for Military operations and security for the territory. The opportunities represent significant cost reductions and enhance the capabilities to increase data accessibility and execute high-risk assignments without exposing human lives.
And what about the threats?
However, we could identify some potential threats that should consider further evaluation:
- The data transmission capacity between the UAV and the ground station due to range limitations or interrupted by topographical barriers.
- Latencies of data transfer can transmit information with a delay causing alterations for the mission’s purposes.
- Weather phenomena can have a higher impact on UAVs than regular man-operated aircraft, while gathering data in hazardous weather conditions can jeopardize reliable data.
- Exposure to GPS jamming or hacking, which will block or interfere with the UAV and the Ground Station communication.
- Lack of technological and operational standards and a lack of defined government regulations required to facilitate integrating the UAVs in different airspace systems.
- The machine is unable to differentiate between a civil and an opponent during combat.
As we can see, despite the number of benefits, some critical aspects need to be evaluated and steered to reduce the threats in the military missions by using UAVs. Some are currently under improvement progress, such as government regulations for UAVs in the airspace, while others will require further research.
Performance measures to mitigate the threats and optimize these machines’ opportunities
Because of the previously mentioned pros and cons, we can think of possible performance measures to mitigate the threats and optimize these machines’ opportunities.
- Additional Data Gathered by UAVs in High-Risk Missions: Risk missions always involve sensitive information. In this case, it is essential to determine the added value and the additional information gathered by the UAVs not obtained before by man-operated aircraft.
- Technological elements can be integrated into the aircraft, compensating the weight not used by pilots, crew, and safety equipment. It is crucial that if the human factor is not present on-site, the ground station counts with all possible elements to overview the situation to improve risk assessment. If more technological devices like infrared cameras, sensors, satellite guidance, data processors, mid-large range surveillance, etc.
- Threat Alerts: The number of threat alerts submitted has helped avoid an attack on homeland security.
- Number of parallel missions performed by a single UAV. Suppose an aircraft can perform multiple tasks at the same time. In that case, gathering relevant information from the different assignments is considerably reduced and can improve and accelerate decision-making.
- In case of damages to the civil population, evaluate the triggers that cause the machine to target, and implement alternative solutions to reduce targeting inaccuracies.
- Hacking Threats Incidents: Tracking the hacking threat incidents can help determine where the vulnerable point is.
- New Territories Accessed by UAVs: Unnaccessed territories using human-crewed aircraft due to topographic conditions, risks, accessibility, etc., are now reachable by UAVs. It’s necessary to explore the new relevant information these accesses provide.
- Determine Latency durations: In case of latencies, determine the latency time, set up a critical threshold in case latency is increasing. Define and implement corrective measures by identifying the latency causes and primarily assess the impact caused by the latency.
Implementing performance measures on UAS in military operations will facilitate the integration and closure of the gaps that don’t allow these machines to use their full potential. There’s still further exploration to come in this fascinating field, and we will be sharing with you some further insights.
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- Shagaev, Igor., Kirk, Brian Robinson. (2017) Active System Control, Aviation: Landscape, Classification, Risk Data. Springer Link. pp 1-44
- Hierl, Robert., Neujahr, Harald., Sandl, Peter., (2012) Information Ergonomics. Military Aviation. Springer Link. Pp 159-195
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems. UAS Solutions for Military and Commercial Applications. Airbus. Defense. UAV.
- Homeland Operations. United States Air Force. Air Force Doctrine Document 2-10
- The Benefits and Challenges of the UAVu (February 2020). Ohio University.