As all good things must end, so too will the current era of uncontested airspace in which American UAVs have operated over the past decade-plus. So what are the Pentagon and the defense industry doing to plan for it? It's something we explored in the February issue of DTI, and you can read the story here.
The days of permissive airspace are hardly over. In fact, most of the missions the U.S. will fly in the foreseeable future will likely occur in permissive airspace, says retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who was the Air Force’s first ISR chief. Deptula believes that technology itself isn’t the issue as much as how the organizations that control it are thinking through the problem. “What we need to be looking at are innovative ways to accomplish the same kinds of outcomes or desired effects with fewer resources,” he says. “Dollars expended, personnel required and numbers of systems. We also have to think about different ways of doing business. Right now if you want more capability you add more sensors which adds more data collection which now requires greater bandwidth to offboard the data.” The key to reducing the amount of data sent to be collected to the ground (which makes it vulnerable to hacking) lies in processing that information on board and sending back only that which is of interest, and adding greater autonomy to the platform so it doesn’t rely on a “man-in-the-loop” to carry out the simplest tasks.
All of this stealth, autonomy, processing power and successive generations of intelligence-gathering technologies won’t come cheap. In the tightening budgets that will mark the next several years, Steve Reid, the senior vp of Textron’s AAI says, “I think we have to be very careful that we remain sensitive to the price points that have been set, and expectations that have been set by our customers for the relative cost of the technology.” For AAI, which produces smaller UAVs, “it’s not ‘achieve this mission at any cost’ like say the Beast of Kandahar [the RQ-170 Sentinel], where it costs whatever it costs,” he explains. “We’re down in sort of the opposite side of that equation where we have to be concerned with the value.”
Read the whole thing.