“[Stealth] is a multiplier wherever we can implement it...correctly and have the right concept of operations,” says Gen. Howie Chandler, commander of Pacific Air Forces and soon to be Air Force Vice Chief of Staff. “I think there is a [pressing need for stealthy, unmanned ISR] that’s here. [It] would be a good thing…if we could get into [stealth] ISR today.”
Global Hawk is the USAF’s pick for long-endurance, high-altitude intelligence gathering, but cheaper, new products with stealth – although not with the same endurance or altitude – like General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ Predator C will be an attractive way for nations with small defense budgets to get into networking and unobserved ISR.
“For those who can’t go [the Global Hawk] route because of finances or for whatever reason, I’m sure that alternatives like [Predator C] might be attractive,” Chandler says. “It would be easier if we all owned the same equipment, but there could be workarounds if we didn’t. As long as they’re compatible at the data level, it doesn’t really matter.”
But there maybe hurdles to letting allies tap into the data flow.
“I think we will probably bump up against data-sharing [restrictions and limits],” Chandler says. “Information sharing and where all of this data will flow once we start gathering it will be the bigger issue. The whole intent of this unified engagement, information-sharing business is to get everybody that is interested in how to do long-endurance UAS in one place. That way we can discuss potential concepts of operations and how different countries might be able to contribute to high altitude UAS operations. The presence of U.S. or partners’ platforms, the ability of bases for refueling or downloading, analyzing and distributed information has a huge potential in terms of the economics of the Pacific by securing trade routes or dealing with national emergencies and contingency operations.”