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  • Israel's Next-Gen UAVs
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 4:15 PM on Aug 16, 2010

    In Israel, there are some unique and very specialized needs that will shape the next-generation unmanned air system (UAS) development.

    “UAS are the future and will play a major role in asymmetric warfare [against stateless and military insurgent groups],” says Yair Shamir, chairman of the board for Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The primary challenge is the price. It needs to be expendable. Combating asymmetric war is still in its infancy. Part of getting prepared for it will be [the development] of unmanned vehicles of all kinds.

    “It would be crazy to send F-35s to kill terrorists,” Shamir says. “The F-35 should be a perfect airplane whatever it costs. But for UAV solutions, you have to be able to send huge quantities rather than high performance designs. You are better off sending something cheap.”

    Joseph Ackerman, CEO of Elbit – Israel’s largest publicly traded defense firm, sees a similar demand for relatively small, inexpensive products.

    “Customers aren’t looking for a product or a specific technology,” Ackerman says. “They are looking for an affordable solution that is available tomorrow for a low price. And if there is a delay, they will cancel the program. We see this all over the world.”

    The answer, he says, is a Sears & Roebuck operation where most of the needed technologies are already in house and can be quickly assembled into a unique solution.
     
    Several concepts will define IAI’s efforts in the unmanned aviation world.
     
    1. Cyber and electronic warfare from UAVs is considered a great opportunity. The State of Israel will not be able to ignore the threat and its offensive potential. These digitally-based capabilities will be shaped around what is available in the commercial arena.

    2. In analyzing customer needs for UAVs, IAI leaders says quantity is seen as the primary consideration. The goal will be low-cost designs that can support each other. They will not be identical and will take on many different tasks. There are to be both master and slave versions of these UAS.

    3. Active electronically scanned array (AESA) sensors will be essential for unmanned platforms. IAI has been developing the technology since it was built into the skin of the futuristic IAI Lavi fighter of the 1980s. UAVs are considered a natural for AESA and its ability to find small targets and differentiate among them.

    4. IAI is actively working on several new UAV platforms. Some are similar to what is already in service, but they will be cheaper, lighter and invisible.
     
    “Stealth is a must,” Shamir says. “You have to play with the numbers and cost. If it’s not too expensive we can send hundreds or thousands, until [the enemy] runs out of missiles.”

    Other possibilities include the bottom of the performance spectrum. Shamir says that during a speech to a small crowd he launched a six-in. butterfly-like UAV with four, flapping, transparent wings, but with enough stability to take a live video of the observers with a camera on the small craft.

    “We can give an 85% [operational] solution, but at low cost,” Ackerman says. “Nobody is going to buy any more B-2s. Our strategy is to build a range of UAVs up to 1.1 tons with the communications, sensors and intelligence payloads that let them do all the necessary missions at long distances.”

    There are additional trends that Elbit has identified.

    1. There is no need for jet engines. Endurance and low loiter speed is more important.

    2. In a few years, 40% of the air missions will be conducted by UAS.

    3. Taking out the pilot means less operator training, fewer countermeasures and elimination of aircrew losses. That lowers UAS costs to 5-10% of an F-16.
     
    “You can send four UAVs – who cares, it’s cheaper and you don’t lose lives,” Ackerman says. “Countermeasures [to protect a manned aircraft] cost you billions. With UAVs, you can take risks.”

    Moving beyond the boardroom, what do Israeli operators – with more operational experience than almost any other nation – want in next generation UAVs?

    “I think the next generation of combat aircraft will be UAVs [conducting] all of the missions done today by jet fighters,” says Tomer Koriat, UAV deputy program manager for Malat’s UAV operator training course.

    However, an active duty UAS pilot involved in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions is less enamored of high performance designs for his work.

    “We looked at whether there was interest in a jet [UAV],” says Israeli air force Capt. O. “What we find was a primary interest in a platform with long endurance and minimum indicated airspeed over a give area. We don’t need the ability to get someplace quickly. We saw in the second Lebanon War and Cast Lead operation that you need to cover a big area for a long time and to make sure that you can gather all the information needed by the combat commanders.”

    At the same time, the UAVs have to work with an environment that can change from irregular war to full-up, conventional operations in a heart beat.

    “Make sure you are flexible and relevant to any other operation in the area,” says Capt. O.  “When you prepare for flight, ensure that you are ready to take a plane flying above Gaza involved in an urban operation and transfer it in real time to a full up war operation in Lebanon.”

    An area beyond airframes and sensors will be designing flight crew profiles that let them operate at peak efficiency.

    “It’s our opinion that it is fine for a pilot to sit 4.5-5 hrs.,” Koriat says. “More is too much. Ten years ago pilots were flying sorties of 11 hrs. Today, it’s not more than 4.5 hrs. Most of the missions are not that exciting and they can last for 20 hr. But if the mission is very intense with a series of air strikes, you don’t want to overload the pilot and sensor operators. He will not be as efficient during the last air strike as he was with the first.”

    Tags: ar99, IAI, Elbit, UAVs, unmanned

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