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Autonomous Vehicles in Support of Naval Operations
A strong desire to minimize casualties to or capture of aircrews;
Dramatic increases in computer processing power and associated software advances;
Advanced sensor technologies that make possible high resolution with much-reduced sensor size and weight;
Improved communications, image-processing, and image-exploitation capabilities;
Increased recognition by UAV advocates in industry and government that aerospace-quality expertise is essential because a model-airplane, “hobby-shop” approach to development will not yield reliable and militarily useful unmanned air systems;
Advances in the efficiencies and reductions in size and weight of propulsion systems; and
The availability of robust, long-endurance UAV platforms resulting from visionary investments by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
In addition, and perhaps most importantly, the generally high marks accorded to UAVs—to the Predator (Figure 4.1) and the Hunter in the 1999 air war against Serbia, the Predator and Global Hawk (Figure 4.2) during Afghanistan operations, and UAVs in general in Operation Iraqi Freedom—have dramatically altered perceptions of the overall importance of UAVs in combat.
In response to emerging operational needs, the Air Force has committed to increased production rates for the Predator and Global Hawk, the Army is fielding its Shadow 200 tactical system (Figure 4.3) in increasing numbers, and the Army has selected the Fire Scout (Figure 4.4) as a key element of its Future Combat System (FCS). For its part, the Navy has committed to acquire a few Global Hawks for experimentation and has plans to make both high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) and ship-based tactical ISR UAV systems operational by the end of this decade. In addition, DARPA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) are pursuing a number of UAV Advanced Technology Demonstrations (ATDs) in concert with the military Services—these involve fighter-like air vehicles for lethal missions (the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS)1) (Figure 4.5), rotorcraft for attack and long-endurance ISR
The J-UCAS program combines the efforts that were previously known as the DARPA/U.S. Air Force (USAF) Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) and the DARPA/U.S. Navy (USN) Naval Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV-N) programs. The J-UCAS program is a joint DARPA/Air Force/Navy effort to demonstrate the technical feasibility, military utility, and operational value for weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles to prosecute 21st-century combat missions, including suppression of enemy air defense, surveillance, and precision strike. Additional information is available at the Web site <http://www.darpa.mil/j-ucas/>. Last accessed on April 5, 2004.