LOOKING OVER THE HILL – BATTLESPACE LOOKS AT BATTLEFIELD UAVs
By Julian Nettlefold, Editor BATTLESPACE
‘The whole art of war consists in getting at what is on the other side of the hill,’
The Duke of Wellington
For Centuries commanders on the battlefield have struggled with one key feature of warfare, what is going on on the other side of the hill.
The use of runners and forward recce troops was used to great effect for centuries and the arrival of the horse on the battlefield gave these troops more mobility and greater speed to send back information to Headquarters. The poignant last scene of the film Gallipoli where the hero had to run back, fruitlessly, to Headquarters to warn of the impending slaughter of his friends shows how little these tactics had changed up to World War I. Field Marshall Montgomery was one of the first modern day Commanders to understand the need for battlefield information and he brought in many changes, one of the most important being the ability for the commander to move around near the front line with a mobile HQ, unlike Word War I where the Headquarters were usually miles behind the front line in buildings with little or no movement of Commanders to the front line, thus any changes to the battles took hours or even days to get back to HQ. The arrival of the field telephone was an advance but the circuits were usually destroyed within seconds of any attack whilst carrier pigeons played a major role in many wars. Rommell was one of the architects with Heinz Guderian of the Blitzkrieg mobile warfare tactics which required the commander to be mobile to keep up with his fast moving troops, he refined this tactic in the Western Desert. As well as his mobile HQ, Monty also realised the great advantage in using combined operations and used his Desert Air Force as forward eyes for his troops and based their HQ near his for faster results. In World War I the main thrust of development of the aircraft on the battlefield was for forward artillery observation, but these machines were very vulnerable to ground fire and attack like their balloon counterparts. Monty also had his team of young officers acting as scouts between forward positions and HQ who reported each night as to any new developments. Later in the Second World War radio developments allowed Forward Air Observer who could guide air and artillery bombardments from forward, but vulnerable positions. These tactics were refined by the development of advanced ground-to-air radios developed by Harris and Hughes which allowed these observers to call in fire directly to a target. The Army has used its own ‘Recce Platoons’ for many years using the speed and protection of light tanks.
In ‘A Short History of UAVs ’ By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service, he describes the development of the UAV on the battlefield.
During the American Civil War, both sides tried to use rudimentary unmanned aerial vehicles. According to Dyke Weatherington, deputy of the Defense UAV Office, Union and Confederate forces launched balloons loaded with explosive devices. The idea, he said, was for the balloons to come down inside a supply or ammunition depot and explode. “It wasn’t terribly effective,” he said during an interview.
The Japanese tried a similar ploy late in World War II. They launched balloon bombs laden with incendiary and other explosives. The theory was high-altitude winds would carry the balloons over the United States, where the bombs would start forest fires and cause panic and mayhem. The Japanese weren’t able to gauge their success and so called it a flop and quit after about a month.
The United States also tried a type of UAV during World War II called Operation Aphrodite. “There were some rudimentary attempts to use manned aircraft in an unmanned role. The limitation there was, we didn’t have the technology to launch these systems on their own and control them,” Weatherington said.
Allied forces used the modified manned ai