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Bluffer’s guide to Unmanned Air Vehicles

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posted on Mar, 26 2006 @ 07:29 AM
I am by no stretch of imagination the UAV expert among the forum regulars. But I do have an interest in them and they are somewhat overlooked as less sexy than their manned brothers, so I am all for raising awareness of unmanned air vehicles. Dependant on feedback, I’m hoping to present a series of articles describing, analyzing and cataloging UAVs with an obvious bias towards current and future projects.

This is the first installment and will hopefully describe the general classes of UAV and their roles. The first barrier is jargon; there are numerous commonly used acronyms and terms which are commonly used, some describing the size of the air vehicle, others its role.

The main classes of UAV are:

HALE: High Altitude Long Endurance. These are typically strategic reconnaissance types such as Global Hawk and Dark Star. The only type operation in substantial numbers within this growing category is the Global Hawk although there are numerous scientific and experimental types flying.
Example HALE UAVs:
*Global Hawk, USA
*Dark Star, USA (cancelled)
*Proteus, USA
*Zond-1, Russia (under development)
*WZ 2000, China (under development)
*Hermes 1500, Israel

MALE: Medium Altitude Long Endurance. These are the top-end tactical systems like the US Predator and Israeli Hermes 450 systems. They typically operate at between 20-30,000ft where they are less susceptible to low-tech air defences and are increasing encroaching on the HALE territory. Unlike the smaller TUAV systems (see below) they can carry satellite communications to allow long range control, and various radar sensors in addition to the more typical optical/IR sensors.
Example MALE UAVs:
*Predator, USA
*Hermes 450 (/WK450), Israel (/UK)
*Heron (/Eagle), Israel (/France)
*Herti, UK (experimental)
*Bateleur, S.Africa (under development)

TUAV: By far the largest category of UAVs, Tactical Unmanned Air Vehicles are widely operated. These aircraft are smaller than the MALE/HALE types and are typically limited to operating about 100-200km from their base station (control unit) due to the lack of satellite datalinks (the same is true of some MALE/HALE platforms). Typical operating heights are between 1,000-15,000ft, where they are comparatively susceptible to ground fire. Typical roles include artillery spotting, post-strike damage assessment and general tactical reconnaissance.
Example TUAVs:
*Hunter, Israel
*Blue Horizon 2, Israel
*Shadow, USA
*KillerBee, USA
*ASN-206, China
*LUNA, Germany
*Crecerelle, France

Micro/mini UAVs: Really just a sub-category of TUAVs, these are designed to be as small as possible to allow hand launch by infantry. Typical applications are as localized reconnaissance, often limited to line of sight (LOS) ranges.
Example Mini UAVs:
*CyberEye, UK
*Sentry, USA
*Skylark (…both), Israel
Example Micro UAVs
*Ferret, USA
*E-Wasp, USA
*Mikado, Germany

UCAV: Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles are basically UAVs armed with various weapons. The majority of programs involve stealthy jet powered air vehicles designed for penetration strike, although a number of lower tech close-support types have been designed. Some UCAVs are often described as Weaponized UAVs because they involve weaponizing surveillance UAVs rather than a dedicated new design – and because of their surveillance heritage, these designs tend to be limited in the penetration strike role.
Example UCAV programs:
*X45-X47 (J-UCAS), USA
*Raven, UK
*Barrakuda, Germany/Spain
*Filur, Sweden
Example Weaponized UAVs:
*Predator, USA

Other commonly used terms include Drone which typically means (at least in the English speaking world) a pre-programmed flightpath design rather than a remotely piloted design. Drones were the first class of UAV to be widely used and were sometimes conversions of target drones used for strategic reconnaissance. Early drones were large although more recent designs are far smaller – having said that drones have proved relatively easy to shoot down and have generally fallen from favor. One exception is the Decoy drones and Attack drones which combine UAV and cruise missile characteristics, the significant difference with other UAVs being that these two classes are not designed to return to base after a successful mission.
Example surveillance Drones:
*Firebee, USA
*ChangHong-1, China
*D-21, USA
*Tu-143, USSR (/Russia)
*CL-289, Germany
Example Decoy Drones:
*ITALD, Israel
Example Attack Drones:
*Harpy, Israel
*Delilah, Israel
*Taifun, Germany

Another separation often made is between VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing types and conventional types – the former being typically employed onboard naval vessels. Having said that, most smaller TUAVs and even some MALE types are often launched by catapult and recovered by parachute or net, meaning that they do not require conventional runways.
Example VTOL UAVs:
*FreeWing, USA
*Hummingbird, USA
*GoldenEye, USA
*Ka-137, Russia
*CL-227 Sentinel, Canada
*Haiou, China (under development)

[edit on 26-3-2006 by planeman]

posted on Mar, 26 2006 @ 08:30 AM
TUAVs, the fledgling aviation industry

From the start UAVs have often been manufactured by small aerospace concerns and were generally overlooked by the big corporations until relatively recently. Israel was an early pioneer of UAVs but other good examples of early small-business UAVs include the Belgium Epervier from the 1970s which was jet powered:

Many countries, even ones with virtually no aviation industry to speak of, have indigenous TUAVs being designed. An example is Pakistan:

The Iranian Abibil is another good example:

posted on Mar, 27 2006 @ 12:25 PM
The road to Predator

A brief overview of the Predator’s design heritage.

The “black project” phase: Teal Rain and Amber
Teal Rain was a DARPA project into long endurance surveillance UAVs started in the early 1980s. In 1984 a company called Leading Systems Inc was contracted to build their “Amber” medium altitude vehicle which first flew in total secrecy in 1986:

The Amber came in two models:
A45: a cheep cruise missile with nose mounted warhead which jettisoned its wings to dive on the target
B45: surveillance UAV
In 1988 the project was declassified and admitted to the public. At the same time a small batch of 7 Amber-1 surveillance UAVs (the attack missile version seems to have been dropped about then) were ordered and put into limited military use. One set a record when it demonstrated 38hrs endurance.
Despite promise, the Amber project was cancelled in 1990 and the air vehicles mothballed. At the same time Leading Systems Inc was purchased by General Atomics.

The Gnat
Even before the Amber was delivered to the US military, Leading Systems Inc were already working on an improved version, the Gnat-750, which differed mainly in a more conventional mid-set wing (partly because the jettison requirement of the A45 was now defunct). The program was continued by General Atomics and the Gnat-750 set a new endurance record of 40 hours in 1992:

The Gnat-750 was pressed into service in 1993/4 in support of UN peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. It was generally successful but due to it’s lack of satalite communications, a motorglider had to be used as an airborne datalink relay to allow operations further away from its CIA base in Albania. The datalink antanea required an additional teardrop fairing to be mounted over the fuselage:

In the late nineties General Atomics developed an improved version, the I-Gnat (Improved Gnat) which is larger, has a 48hr+ endurance and can carry hellfire missiles. A Handful are in service.

And finally… Predator
following the Ganat-750’s reasonably successful operation in the Balkans, General Atomics were contracted to produce an improved version to become the standard MALE UAV, equipped with satellite datalink to allow long range missions:

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