Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for the Army
A global race to develop UAVs is on and as per one estimate, global spending on UAVs is likely to be more than $94 billion by 2021. Army has many roles for the UAVs like reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition, intelligence gathering, damage a
THERE HAVE BEEN ATTEMPTS in the past to develop a remotelyc ontrolled aerial platform, as soon as powered flight achieved some maturity, around World War I, which included the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane. During World War II, many more were developed as aerial targets and to fly attack missions. Germany also got into the race and developed and employed some for operations. Jet engines were tested post-World War II like the Teledyne Ryan Firebee I. Other pioneers were Beechcraft with their Model 1001 for the US Navy in 1955. But the development really accelerated during the Vietnam War when the US Air Force became concerned of losing pilots over enemy territory. They were then called remotely-piloted vehicles (RPVs). The pace of development increased with the shooting down off the United States’ spy plane U-2 with Francis Gary Powers as pilot. Israel had the honour of developing the first modern battlefield RPV called Tadiran Mastiff in 1973, which had good endurance for loitering and transmitted live video streaming. The US as usual pioneered all innovative technological drives and RPVs are no exception, which have now developed into a very important pillar of aerial reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence gathering. This was clearly demonstrated during the two Iraq wars and now in Afghanistan. The US has also added the role of an attacking platform by arming them with missiles like Hellfire. In the US, they are extensively used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), defence forces and homeland security.
The term unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) came into usage in the early 1990s and replaced RPVs. The US Department of Defense defined it as “A powered aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator and uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expended or recoverable, and can carry a lethal or a non-lethal payload. Ballistic or semi-ballistic vehicles, cruise missiles and artillery projectiles are not considered UAVs.”
About 80 countries have acquired UAV technology. China and Pakistan have also developed their own UAVs. China is estimated to have at least 25 separate UAV systems under development. More than 600 programmes are under development worldwide. Iran has developed its indigenous UAV called the ‘Ambassador of Death’, which has a range of up to 960 km. Hezbollah launched an Iranian-made drone into Israeli territory, where it was shot down by the Israeli Air Force in October 2012. A global race to develop UAVs is on and as per one estimate, global spending on UAVs is likely to be more than $94 billion by 2021.
UAVs for the Army
Army has many roles for the UAVs like reconnaissance, surveillance and target
acquisition (RSTA), intelligence gathering, damage assessment, search and rescue, aerial command centres and extending the communication links by networking. During peacetime, UAVs are valuable in border management, counter-insurgency operations, urban warfare and anti-terrorism. UAVs come in various sizes depending upon their role. Tactical UAVs can be hand held at platoon level and progressively get bigger as their role enlarges from tactical to operational to strategic role. UAVs are also called unmanned aerial system as it includes the ground control infrastructure. The US Army classifies them as: Tier-I: small UAV like RQ-11B Raven; Tier-II: short-range tactical UAV like RQ-7B Shadow 200; and Tier-III: medium-range tactical UAV like MQ-5A/B Hunter, IGNAT/IGNAT-ER or the extended-range multi-purpose (ERMP) MQ-1C Gray Eagle.
AeroVironment’s Tactical Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnais
sance (ISR) lightweight UAVs: The RQ11BRaven is a lightweight UAV designed for rapid deployment and high mobility for both military and commercial applications requiring low-altitude reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. Raven can be operated manually or programmed for autonomous operation. Raven B is the standard small UAV for the US Army, USSOCOM, and the US Marines. Over 11,000 Raven airframes have already been delivered to customers worldwide. With a wingspan of 4.5 feet and a weight of 1.9 kg, the hand-launched Raven provides aerial observation, by day or night, at line-of-sight ranges of 10 km or more with an altitude of 30-152 metres AGL. The Raven delivers real-time colour or IR imagery to ground control and remote viewing stations, as well as IR laser illumination of ground targets.
AeroVironment’s tactical ISR portfolio also consists of lightweight UAVs like Puma AE, Wasp AE and Shrike vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) designed for providing ISR and communications, including real-time tactical reconnaissance, tracking, combat assessment and geographic data, directly to a small tactical unit or individual soldier. AeroVironment’s common ground control system for all their UAVs allows the operator to control the aircraft manually or programme it for GPS-based autonomous navigation using operator-designated waypoints-way-points. The UAVs are man-portable and can be assembled and launched in less than five minutes. Puma AE (All Environment) is designed for land-based and maritime operations which is capable of landing on land as well water, with a flight endurance of 3.5+ hours and a communications range of 15 km. Wasp AE is the all-environment version of AeroVironment’s battle proven Wasp III. It is specially designed for maritime and land operations with a communications range of five km and flight endurance of 50 minutes. Shrike VTOL is a man-packable, vertical take-off and landing system, designed for frontline day/night ISR.
AAI (an operating unit of Textron Systems) Shadow: The Shadow 200 tactical UAV is a state-of-the-art platform, in service with the US Army and Marine Corps for carrying out reconnaissance, surveillance,
UAVs come in various sizes depending upon their role. Tactical UAVs can be hand held at platoon level and progressively get bigger as their role enlarges from tactical to operational to strategic role.
targeting and assessment. Designated as the RQ-7B by the US Army, the UAV enables brigade commanders to see, understand and act decisively when time is critical. The aircraft can see targets up to 125 km away from the brigade tactical operations centre and recognise tactical vehicles up to 8,000 feet above the ground at more than 3.5 km slant range, day or night. The Shadow ground control station transmits imagery and telemetry data directly to the joint surveillance and target attack radar system, all sources analysis system and advanced field artillery tactical data system in near real time.
Northrop Grumman (TRW/IAI)
BQM-155/RQ-5/MQ-5 Hunter: The Hunter was based on the Israel Aircraft Industries’ (IAI) Impact UAV. TRW provided systems integration and management of the Hunter in the USA. The BQM-155A takes off from normal runways but boosterassisted zero-length launches are also possible. The major payload items are a combined TV/FLIR sensor and a data relay system. Mission radius for single vehicle flights is about 150 km, which can be extended to 300 km using a second Hunter as airborne relay. Maximum endurance is about 12 hours. The UAV lands like a conventional aircraft (it can optionally use its retractable hook to engage arrestor wires), but a parachute system is available for emergencies. In January 2003, Northrop Grumman developed a repackaged version of their brilliant anti-tank guided anti-armour submunition, which can be deployed by suitably modified Hunters and were delivered to the US Army during 2003. In 2003, Northrop Grumman purchased the Hunter programme from TRW. Subsequently, the company developed the MQ-5B, a Hunter variant which has been further optimised for the multi-mission role. Hunter is to be replaced by MQ-1C Grey Eagle probably by 2014.
Northrop Grumman’s Bat UAV: Bat is a family of multi-mission UAVs designed for tactical missions such as counter IED, communications relay, signals intelligence, electronic warfare which has a land and a maritime version. Bat has flown a large variety of payloads such as electro-optical/ infrared (EO/IR), synthetic aperture radar (SAR), signal intelligence (SIGINT), electronic warfare (EW) and communications relay. It is launched from a rail launcher and recovers into a portable net. It can be operated from single laptop that runs the ground control stations. Bat is also beyond line of sight (BLOS) capable. Bat12 version can carry a payload and Communications up to 34 kg, has a maximum altitude of 15,000 ft MSL, maximum speed at level flight 89 knots true airspeed (KTAS) and loiter speed of 60 KTAS.Bat12+2 has marginally higher capability like it can carry a payload of up to 45.3 kg and the maximum altitude is 17,000 ft.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ Gray Eagle UAV: GA-ASI’s Gray Eagle extended range/multi-purpose UAV is an essential part of the US Army’s Aviation
Modernisation Plan, which is an advanced derivative of the combat-proven Predator. Gray Eagle can carry out the role for persistent RSTA and attack operations. It has an endurance of 25 hours, speeds up to167 KTAS, can operate up to 29,000 feet and carries 488 kg of internal and external payload. The aircraft can carry multiple payloads aloft, including EO/IR with laser designation, SAR, communications relay and four Hellfire missiles. Its mission set includes but is not limited to wide-area intelligence surveillance, reconnaissance, convoy protection, improvised explosive device detection and defeat, close air support, communications relay and weapons delivery missions.
IAI’ Searcher UAV: Searcher is a multimission tactical UAV which can carry out the role of surveillance, reconnaissance, target acquisition, artillery adjustment of fire and damage assessment. Searcher has been constantly improved from Mk1 to MkII and MkIII. The Searcher Mk III has multiple operational configurations, SAR/ground moving target indicator (GMTI), SIGINT and EO/IR and is built from composite materials to reduce radar detection. It has a maximum speed of 198 kmph, maximum altitude of 23,000 ft, can carry a maximum payload of 120 kg, has endurance of 18h and the mission radius is 350 km.
IAI’ Heron: Heron 2 is the largest medium-altitude long-endurance UAV built in Israel. It has a wingspan of just under 26 metres, length of 14 metres, and the aircraft has a maximum take-off weight of 4,650 kg with a typical mission payload of 1,000 kg. It has an operational altitude of 45,000 ft and is capable of missions of more than 36 hours duration. The system has been dubbed Eitan by the Israel Air Force and is the fourth-generation system based on leading-edge technology with new fully automatic take-off and landing features. It provides deep-penetration, wide-area, real-time intelligence to national agencies, theatre commanders and lower echelons with primary role being intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition.
IAI’ Mosquito: Mosquito is a microUAV, providing real-time imagery data in restricted urban areas. The system offers a fully automated flight with GPS based “in flight” way point control. The Mosquito is hand or bungee launched and lands on its belly. The mission radius is three km, endurance 0.7 hour, and ceiling up to 500 ft AGL, loiter speed 33 KTAS, max speed 60 KTAS and maximum payload weight of 150 gm with a wingspan of 0.35 metre.
China: China is also developing many types of UAVs in the heavy- and mediumrange. China displayed Pterodactyl at the Paris Air Show in 2013, which is its first unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV). They also have a scaled down version of Global Hawk. PLA Army BZK-006 (WZ-6 or K/JWR6?) tactical reconnaissance UAV was on display during the 60th National Day military parade on October 1, 2009, onboard its launch vehicle. Each station can control two UAVs at a same time. It has a length of 4.3 metres, height 1.5 metres, endurance of 12 hours and uses rocket assisted takeoff and parachute landing. BZK-007 UAV has also been in service with PLA Army and Navy as a tactical reconnaissance UAV (dubbed BZK007). It can carry a variety of equipment including daylight/IR TV cameras, high definition CCD camera, as well as remote sensors of different spectral bands or even SAR. It has a maximum take-off weight of 750 kg, mission payload is 70 kg and the maximum level speed is 240 kmph.
Pakistan: A recent press release stated that Pakistan had inducted its first fleet of “indigenously developed UAVs, namely Burraq and Shahpa for the Army and the Air Force. Shahpar is a tactical canard pusher UAV which is claimed to be an autonomous UAV with an eight hour endurance, payload of 50 kg and could relay data in real time out to a range of 250 km. Observers believe that Burraq appears to be a Pakistani variant or a development of the Chinese Rainbow CH-3 UCAV, but little else is known. Reports regarding Pakistan developing an UCAV, named Burraq, dates back to 2009. Burraq based on CH-3 specifications, would be able to carry around 100 kg payload and has an endurance of 12 hour. The payload of the CH-3 is a pair of AR-1 missiles or a pair of FT-5 small diameter bombs. Thus somewhat similar could be expected on Burraq. China has been helping Pakistan in transferring sensitive military technology to them.
India has acquired Heron and Searcher from Israel for its armed forces for ISR. However, it does not have UAVs which could be integrated with brigade and below. Recently, the media reported that the Indian Army plans to buy 49 mini-UAVs for the Northern Theatre. They will provide ISR for border management; ceasefire violations and tracking the infiltration of the terrorists. In addition, it was also reported that the Indian Government has cleared the procurement of around 15 Heron UAVs from Israel at a cost of around ` 1,200 crore. The earlier fleet of both Searchers and Herons are also likely to undergo upgrades. DRDO is developing Rustom series of UAVs where Rustom-1 is MALE class, Rustom-2 is high-altitude longendurance class and Rustom-2 is an UCAV. Rustom’s-1 prototype is being tested and the other two are under development. DRDO has also developed a tactical UAV called Nishant which is in the production stage. Nishant is a highly mobile, compact and easily deployable system that can undertake day/ night battlefield reconnaissance, surveillance and target tracking. It can also help in correction of artillery fire. With an endurance capacity of 4.5 hours, it can attain maximum speed of 185 km per hour. Central Reserve Police Force and Border Security Force are already using DRDO’s light weight Netra UAV in the Naxalite region since 2012. It is reported that Nishant will also be acquired by them.
Northrop Grumman’s MQ-5B Hunter