September 23, 2013
When the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) declared its intent to make close air support more responsive by enabling ground forces to directly control the weapons on unmanned aircraft, it raised a few eyebrows. When it revealed a heavily armed Fairchild A-10 would be converted to optionally piloted operation for the Precision Close Air Support (PCAS) technology demonstration, eyebrows arched even higher.
Now the skeptics can relax, somewhat, as the PCAS program has been reshaped to focus on near-term transition of the technology to manned close-air-support (CAS) aircraft. An A-10 will still be used as the testbed for live-fire trials, but will be flown manned. And PCAS will still demonstrate that a joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) on the ground can directly control the weapons on an aircraft, but the outcome will not lead to automated, unmanned CAS.