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UAVs and the Area Denial threat

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posted on Aug, 2 2013 @ 02:34 PM
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There is a great article in the Flight Global Club today, about UAVs and the Area Denial threat against them. It's a membership area, but it's free if you want to sign up and read it. Well worth the read.

Ever since the Pentagon announced plans to shift to the Pacific, people in the know have been saying that the current UAVs are highly inadequate for the missions they'll be asked to perform. They work wonderfully in permissive airspace, the problem comes when airspace is contested. They wouldn't survive for more than a few minutes at most (and that probably because it takes that long to get around to shooting them down).


No less an authority than Gen Mike Hostage, commander of the USAF's Air Combat Command, has questioned the relevance of the current unmanned aircraft fleet in the Western Pacific. "We are now shifting to a theatre where there is an adversary out there who is going to have a vote on whether I have that staring eye over the battlefield 24 [hours], seven [days a week], 365 [days a year], and pretty certain they are not going to allow that to happen," Hostage said, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in late 2012. "The fleet I've built up - and I'm still being prodded to build up too - is not relevant in that new theatre."


Even the US Navy's UCLASS program will be less than relevant. The new requirements are for an aircraft that could survive in lightly contested airspace, with an ISR primary mission, and light strike requirements, not a penetrating aircraft in any sense of the words.


However, the UCLASS project is turning out to be far less ambitious than initially expected. Rather than an ultra-long-range, stealthy, unmanned carrier-based bomber with a hefty payload, final navy requirements call for the UCLASS to be little more than a modestly stealthy jet-powered Predator.

It will not be a penetrating strike aircraft in any real sense, as the requirements primarily call for the UCLASS to operate in lightly contested airspace. Furthermore, the aircraft is primarily geared towards the ISR role, with a light secondary strike mission.

As currently envisioned, the UCLASS will have a total payload of 1,360kg (3,000lb), of which only 454kg would consist of air-to-ground weapons.


It's been said that UCLASS will be nothing more than a Predator capable of operating off a deck, instead of the truly revolutionary, penetrating airframe that they have the chance to create.

One of the problems with UAVs and contested airspace, is communications. The satellite link is both detectable, and jammable. Neither is easy to do, but both can be done. If current UAVs lose their communications, even for a short time they execute "lost link protocols" which can include flying in a fixed location until the link comes back up.

One suggestion is something that has been proposed before, that is using UAVs as wingmen for manned aircraft. That would put them close enough to punch through jamming with a Link 16 style datalink, as well as giving the manned aircraft extra sensors on the UAV.

The ultimate solution would be making them fully autonomous, but that is a long way away from occurring.


Longer term, Gunzinger says unmanned aircraft have to become more autonomous if they are to be able to operate over the horizon inside contested airspace. It will take time to develop certain higher order functions, such as co-ordinating multiple air vehicles without a man-in-the-loop or avoiding pop-up threats, but Gunzinger believes more autonomous UAVs are technically feasible: "That's within the realm of emerging technology. We can have a more autonomous UAS today, for example, UAS capable of autonomous air refuelling that could greatly extend their range and endurance."

But Pietrucha says true autonomy is not technically feasible: "I had this discussion a couple of months ago with a bunch of the artificial intelligence guys from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. Their answer on the true autonomy piece is 'no way in any type of foreseeable future', because you need something like the transistor to come along: the unpredictable breakthrough in cybernetics or robotics."


If the military wanted to make them autonomous and hit fixed locations, that would be doable, with something like an RQ-170 program. It would be fairly simple to develop an armed Sentinel that could fly to programmed locations, and hit fixed targets, such as fixed SAM sites, or command and control locations. The big limitation is that they can't provide a damage assessment, so you won't know right away if they hit their target, or how badly damaged it is.

The bottom line is that if the UAV is to remain relevant to future operations, the military is going to have to take a chance and develop an aircraft capable of penetrating hostile airspace, and not just fly around when there is no threat to them, or a very limited threat. If they're not willing to do that, then the UAV will be nothing but a fad, and the risk becomes someone that's less than friendly develops one, with the associated upgrades to technologies, and catches us flat footed if something were to happen.

www.flightglobal.com...




posted on Aug, 3 2013 @ 02:32 AM
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reply to post by Zaphod58
 


Excellent post, I was certainly guilty of thinking that UCLASS was more capable than it seems. Regarding the mentions of autonomy and survivability, I recall that these were features of the Taranis programme (which seems to have gone totally silent) and BAE modified a Tornado to undertake autonomous flights as a precursor to the Taranis proper. Taranis was also referred to as the first supersonic UCAV in some reports I've read, but details are extremely hard to come by, I have found.

Just doing some thinking in the open here, but I wonder if the utter lack of updates about Taranis since it was rolled out could mean there is already some sort of US/UK tie up being forged ahead with on this? The French certainly don't seem happy with us at the moment.



posted on Aug, 3 2013 @ 05:16 AM
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reply to post by waynos
 


That really wouldn't surprise me. I'm noticing closer ties than usual with the UK and US militaries. The Airseeker is one good indicator of that. If you had told me even 10 years ago that a non-US military would be operating RC-135s, I would have laughed in your face. For many years if you weren't crew, you weren't on it, and it was absolutely NOFOR, no matter who you were. The same with the B-2. I was shocked when I heard there was an RAF MC flying the B-2.



posted on Aug, 4 2013 @ 02:29 PM
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I took note of the push for autonomous UAV's.
I think they are a lot more scary than what they use now.



posted on Aug, 4 2013 @ 02:32 PM
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reply to post by butcherguy
 


It's the only way they'll survive. Right now, an Air to Air UCAV is impossible, as there is about a one second delay between control station, and the aircraft. One second in air combat means death to the UAV. Which means that in a contested airspace situation, by the time the operator sees an enemy fighter or missile coming in, it's probably already hit by the time he reacts.

If they don't develop autonomous UAVs, which are a long way away for truly autonomous units, there's no point in having UAVs in just about any sense.



posted on Aug, 4 2013 @ 03:10 PM
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reply to post by Zaphod58
 


I am aware of their need.
I can just imagine a strike happening that 'shouldn't' have happened. I am thinking in the sense of false flag operations (I think this is still a conspiracy site) or hacking of the system by an enemy.



posted on Aug, 4 2013 @ 03:10 PM
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reply to post by Zaphod58
 


Double post.
edit on 4-8-2013 by butcherguy because: (no reason given)



posted on Aug, 4 2013 @ 03:15 PM
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reply to post by butcherguy
 


An autonomous system, as described, wouldn't be picking its own targets. It would be pointed to target areas, given certain targets to look for, that had to match up to specific criteria (ie a SAM site), and allowed to chose its own route to the target. It would be able to search for threats, and avoid them, then find the target.

Hacking current UAVs was only possible by altering the GPS data, making it think that it was somewhere it wasn't. It isn't currently possible to hack in and take control of the aircraft itself, due to encryption protocols (the GPS wasn't encrypted). With an autonomous system it would be even harder, because there would be very little uplink data being sent or received, and the GPS would be encrypted. And the chances for a blue on blue are reduced as well, as each would have a specific set of targets, and would have to be identified by the UAV before weapons could be released.

There would still be some manual control, but it wouldn't require a human for all aspects of flight, like current UAVs have.



posted on Aug, 4 2013 @ 03:44 PM
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Hope that's it. Tailless, gives the Typhoons absolute hell, can turn and accelerate shockingly well, and although that's a terrible crop from the original, its taken in 2012. UK.



posted on Aug, 4 2013 @ 03:52 PM
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Sorry, uploaded the wrong photo





posted on Aug, 13 2013 @ 11:32 AM
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The Navy has slipped the RFP for the UCLASS program until sometime in September now. They're apparently trying to decide just how much LO is enough, among other things.

Right now as it stands, it appears that Lockheed, and Northrop Grumman are going for a 5th generation route, and looking at more survivability and more LO, while General Atomics and Boeing are going for more endurance and payload, and less survivability. Lockheed Martin has said that they believe the aircraft will have to go a fifth generation route if it wants to survive in the A2AD threat environment. The problem is that more stealth tends to lead to longer time to develop and higher costs. The Navy wants to have the first aircraft in service within three to six years of award.

AvWeek



posted on Aug, 15 2013 @ 06:42 AM
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Originally posted by Zaphod58
Lockheed Martin has said that they believe the aircraft will have to go a fifth generation route if it wants to survive in the A2AD threat environment. The problem is that more stealth tends to lead to longer time to develop and higher costs. The Navy wants to have the first aircraft in service within three to six years of award.

AvWeek


Are the X-47B and / or the F-35 skins not enough to keep an airframe inside the highly survivable envelope? I don't understand why, if the X-47B is so advanced and stealthy, they simply are not saying 'right, this is us, this is our penetrating airframe'.



posted on Aug, 15 2013 @ 08:07 AM
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reply to post by Astr0
 


The X-47was only meant to be a technology demonstrator designed to prove they could land and launch off a carrier deck. The original plan was for them to be retired as soon as they proved it could be done. The Navy recently announced that they would continue to fly them to help develop procedures for the UCLASS program for deck handling, etc.





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