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Unmanned Aircraft Systems Could Give Decisive Edge

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U.S. Army
Monday, October 10, 2016

Figuring out how to make autonomous unmanned aircraft systems increasingly available to small platoon- and squad-level tactical units could provide useful and potentially decisive combat advantages, according to a recent report.

The Defense Science Board’s “Summer Study on Autonomy” details the latest developments in autonomous systems for military use. It says UAS carrying sensing, communications, jamming and strike packages can deliver a variety of capabilities to small ground units, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare, tactical strike support and overwatch of battle space.

Tactical ground units operating in asymmetric and near-peer conflicts “are under constant threat, operating in an environment that is complex, constantly changing and unpredictable,” the report says. “The speed at which ground units discover, assess and react to battle-space change is vital to tactical success.”

However, today’s systems are rarely used to support small-unit actions because the operating and support requirements of these systems don’t mesh well with the rapidly evolving needs of agile, highly maneuverable units, according to the report.

Small tactical units simply don’t have the manpower or equipment to direct UAS operations. Small organic systems such as the RQ-11 Raven “are difficult to use in unexpected engagements because the engaged unit is required to dedicate personnel to prepare and launch the Raven … distracting them from other tasks,” the report says.

Larger, centrally controlled UAS such as the Boeing Scan Eagle, RQ-7 Shadow and MQ-9 Reaper also present operational challenges for small tactical forces. The report says for autonomous UAS to be useful, “the interface between the frontline unit and the UAS support team must be minimal, consisting of an app on an existing handheld device or audio interactions over an ear bud and microphone.”

The Defense Science Board report is available here: http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/2010s/DSBSS15.pdf