Thoughts on the military and military activities of a diverse nature. Free-ranging and eclectic.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Unmanned VII.

This is coolbert:

Here is an article from an Australian air power web site concerning the future of the UCAV.


Panacea or Pipe Dream?

This particular author, Carlo Kopp, has a much MORE skeptical and realistic [?] attitude toward the entire concept of the UCAV than most. I have extracted pertinent items. My comments in BOLD!

"Unlike established technology, a modern UCAV is designed from the outset for a combat role, delivering a range of precision guided munitions."

Prior versions of the UAV were designed as basically a reconniassance vehicle. Cameras, radars, imagery, etc. The UCAV is designed from the start as FOR A COMBAT ROLE!

"Carried into combat by modified DC-130 Hercules transports, reconnaissance variants of the BQM-34 were used extensively during the latter part of the Vietnam conflict and achieved considerable success in photographing semi-mobile NVA SAM sites."

This is the first I have read of this. My prior blog entry on the multi-faceted roles of the venerable Hercules did NOT mention this? I must check this out!

[that was the DC version of the Hercules. My blog entry did mention the DC version. That is a good idea. Gives the drone/UAV very extended range. Ferried to a target, released, controlled from the mother craft, etc.]

"Moore's Law driven advances in computing power offered potential for onboard intelligence beyond the dreams of designers in the 1970s."

Moore's Law again! How many times I have mentioned that with regard to the UAV concept? More on Moore's Law later.

"The basic idea underpinning most UCAV development is that of a low cost, stealthy robotic combat aircraft capable of undertaking very high risk, or typically very high attrition, roles in which the used of manned aircraft is regarded to be problematic."

Low cost - - stealthy - - robotic - - FOR very high risk - - high attrition - - roles [missions].

"the CNN Effect, as shot down aircrew are regarded to be a very high value negotiating asset by a great number of regimes which find themselves frequently at odds with the US or indeed other developed nations."

We are seeing this right now, as we speak!! Those fifteen English being held captive by the Iranians. For propaganda and bargaining chip value!! Statements, videos, more statements, interviews, etc. All faithfully covered by the CNN and other media. A "negotiating asset"? YES!

"The defeat of mobile SAM and AAA systems requires loitering or persistent bombing techniques"

See my Wild Weasel blog entry.

"the priorities seen in the DARPA/US Air Force/Boeing X-45 program - Suppression of Enemy Air Defences / Destruction of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD/DEAD) is the prime role for the vehicle"

See my Wild Weasel blog entry.

"Indeed, proposals have been floated in recent years for UCAV variants of the F-16C and JSF, intended to address the issue of aircrew exposure and very long loiter times"

This is an interesting idea. Take existing aircraft, or those being manufactured right now, and use THEM, with proper controls as UCAV! Of course advocates of designing UCAV as they are being developed now would point to the flying wing concept, the size, the stealthiness, the long endurance, etc, as being factors for NEW aerial vehicles to be built rather than modify existing ones.

"UCAVs do offer some compelling advantages other than avoiding aircrew exposure. A UCAV does not fatigue, and thus endurance is bounded by consumables like lubricants, weapon payloads, and availability of aerial refuelling assets. Another consideration is G tolerance - UCAV CPUs do not experience GLOC."

With regard to GLOC. G-force Loss Of Conciousness. Pilots since World War Two [WW2] have had to deal with the problem. Obviously obviated with the UAV, there is NO pilot. Those rapid and at-the-edge-of-the-envelope maneuvers done by modern combat aircraft place an enormous strain of the physiology of the pilot. A HUMAN BODY IS NOT MEANT TO ENDURE SUCH STRESS!! Black-out and loss of conciousness was the result. Planes would crash. THE G-SUIT, CURRENTLY WORN BY FIGHTER JOCK COMBAT PILOTS MITIGATES GLOC. HUMANS ARE ALREADY OPERATING COMBAT AIRCRAFT, AND HAVE BEEN FOR SOME TIME, BEYOND WHAT THE HUMAN BODY IS CAPABLE OF WITHSTANDING!!

[NOT ONLY GLOC. The human brain is not capable of absorbing, digesting, and reasoning quick enough for all the data input a fighter pilot will exposed to during a combat mission. "Stuff" happens so quickly that one cannot react quick enough. The limits of human physical and mental ability has been exceeded for some time with current combat aircraft. Systems aboard aircraft have been designed with this in mind. UCAV with AI that WORKS is an answer to this problem!!??]

"The core technology issue in UCAVs is not the design of the airframe - in principle any airframe can be adapted. The do or die item will be the software in the UCAV's central mission computer and the digital radio datalinks which connect the central mission computer with offboard operators or mission supervisors."

"is not the design of the airframe". I might seriously disagree with this. Those flying wing type aerial vehicles can fly longer, higher, use less fuel, much more stealthy, than can conventional airframes that INCORPORATE A COCKPIT FOR A PILOT.

"One extreme, a wholly autonomous UCAV, does so with a hardware/software system, the other extreme, a wholly remote controlled UCAV, does so via radio datalinks to a remote operator in another aircraft or ground station."

"Curiously enough, the enthusiastic belief that human cognitive and decision-making capabilities will soon be emulated in computer hardware/software is not one shared widely in the computer science research community, or indeed the artificial intelligence (AI) research community."

AI, artificial intelligence, has not progressed to the extent that proponents desire. The HAL2000 computer has not transpired, as of yet. We DO NOT FULLY UNDERSTAND THE WAY A HUMAN BEING THINKS AS WELL AS WE WOULD LIKE TO. EMULATION BY COMPUTER OF HUMAN THINKING IS NOT POSSIBLE. RESEARCH IS ON-GOING, BUT PROGRESSING SLOWLY.

"Without onboard AI the complexity of the role will push up bandwidth demands, as a human operator becomes increasingly needed to drive the UCAV and its systems."

This is of course for the UCAV that is controlled from the ground. A data link allows the operator on the ground to control the UCAV [or any other UAV for that matter]. A continuous signal is passing to/from the UCAV and the ground station.

"Datalink resilience is another key issue"

The enemy can jam the data link.

"Aerial refuelling will be a key capability in making full use of the benefits inherent in the UCAV."

Even the flying wing type UCAV will require refueling at some point. Mid-air refueling, intuitively is very risky and difficult.

"the question arises as to which roles and missions are best performed by UCAVs, and which are best retained in the domain of manned aircraft."

* "Roles which involve unusually high risk of aircraft loss are immediate candidates, as are roles in which unusual range or persistence is required."

* "The SEAD/DEAD role is the focus of the current US Air Force sponsored demonstration program"

Again, see my prior Wild Weasel blog entry.

* "High power support jamming of hostile radar systems, the Prowler/Raven role, is another environment where the UCAV might prove particularly useful."

* "One role which has been debated for the UCAV is that of a reusable cruise missile."

"UCAV proponents have for some time prognosticated the demise of manned fighters, predicting that UCAVs will displace these wholly in coming decades."

It has been theorized that with sufficient developments in AI, the dog-fighting aircraft manned by a human "fighter jock" will be replaced by UCAV also. NOT just a bomber, but a fighter as well.

"The ultimate conclusion is that manned combat aircraft will remain with us for the forseeable future."

The U.S. Air Force has contracted for 2500 of the F-35 to be built. UCAV will presumably NOT be replacing those? Humans are going to be pilots for some time to come?

"The current UCAV has the brains of a cat". Until AI catches up with human congnition, reasoning ability, etc., the UCAV will only play a limited but perhaps still important role in aerial warfare of the future.




Anonymous Roger said...

"Brains of a cat" sounds not too scary. But ... tigers also have the brains of a cat!
"Brains of a cat" + JDAM = damned scary!!

There is a big difference according to whether we are talking ground attack or air superiority. A cat brain can definitely handle air superiority: "All the aircraft in zone B either respond on IFF, or else are considered enemy. Destroy all enemy aircraft encountered in Zone B." Part of the excitement in certain circles over UCAVs is that there is good reason to believe a cat-brained UCAV would not only be a cheaper and safer way to achieve this than a human pilot, but there is also good reason to believe it would actually be far more capable. (In fact it is already only possible for a human pilot to complete the mission because he is being assisted by a tactical cat brain that is already on board.)

Ground attack is a different story. No existing computer system can understand the complex ground environment well enough to perform this mission *autonomously* to the same standards as a human pilot. Sure a cat-brain can fly to a grid reference and drop a bomb, but a human pilot can say "waiddaminnit, that's not a SAM site, that's a CNN crew!!" or "hey, it looks like indigenous irregular troops have already captured the SAM site!"

The solution is for ground attack UCAV to be remote controlled rather than autonomous, but that raises the complexities of EW and what the thing is supposed to do if the link is jammed. (Currently: fly in circles like a sitting, erm, orbiting duck, to try to re-establish the link; and if that doesn't work, abort the mission and fly home. The Taliban don't have much EW capability. Iran and PRC both have have buckets of it.)

The idea of converting an existing combat aircraft makes a modicum of sense at least for obsolescent aircraft. However in general, it loses all but one advantage of UCAV. Certainly, you no longer risk losing a pilot, which is definitely a good thing.

However, UCAV offer considerable additional advantages due to removal of the pilot. Lack of cockpit and life support systems makes the aircraft significantly more compact and lighter for a given capability, which improves performance. At the same time, the inability of a human pilot to survive high negative g's is a significant aerobatic limitation that is immediately eliminated. Since the pilot can't survive high negative g's anyway, conventional airframes may not even be designed to be able to perform them. A purpose built UCAV would have that ability.

But finally, it is likely that a purpose built UCAV airframe would be considerably cheaper than existing FGA aircraft. For example, Reaper is currently about half the price of F-16, and about 1/17th (6% !!) the price of an F-22. Thus for "high attritional" missions, converting an existing FGA only makes economic sense as a useful way to dispose of obsolescent airframes.

A final thought on EW: if we expect the enemy to capture large numbers of damaged UCAV, and if successful ECM causes automatic mission failures, that poses some interesting design problems for "prevention of exploitation" of UCAV avionics captured by the enemy.

3:36 PM


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home