Wednesday, February 9, 2011

We Own the Unmanned Skies

A major advantage and force multiplier for the United States in the last few years has been our unmanned aerial platforms.  UAVs like the Predator gave our intel guys "eyes in the sky" for significantly less than a manned vehicle would have cost, also while not exposing one or more US air crew to the hazards of flying over sometimes unfriendly airspace.  When armed with munitions, UAV become a way of immediately projecting force.  A "Predator pack" of 4 Predators, ground control station, and satellite link cost $20 million in 2009 dollars.  When considering that a single F16D cost about the same amount in 1998 dollars, it can easily be seen that UAVs are a very cost-efficient way to watch the battlefield and attack high-value targets with little risk to mission personnel.

The Predator is larger than many battlefield UAVs designed to give battlefield intel to nearby commanders.  The  Reaper , at 4900 pounds, with over 3500 lbs of potential payload, and up to 1150 miles of range, is even larger.  These UAVs are capable  for projecting force from a low-observability, cost-effective platform, but they are still small and slow compared to strike aircraft like the F/A-18E.  With the (J-)UCAS program, this may be changing.

The Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems has the goal of producing an unmanned strike fighter.  There are two current contenders for the title, the Boeing X-45, and the Northrop Grumman X-47.  The X-47B had its first flight 4 February 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment