EUROPEAN 2007-8 UAV UPDATE
By Stefan Nitschke
16 Apr 08. Lower downside risk and higher confidence in mission success are two strong motivators for continued expansion of UAS in the today’s and tomorrow’s joint warfighting network. The recent test flying of the Italian SKY-Y MALE UAS which lasted for some eight hours over the Vidsel test range in northern Sweden, is a key example of how unmanned technology in the air will change military operations in the future. As to the aircraft’s manufacturer, Alena Aeronautica (a subsidiary of Finmeccanica), the newly developed SKY-Y demonstrator UAS is possessing unrivalled technological capabilities in the field of intelligence-gathering, with state-of-the-art data link processing equipment delivering timely and accurate intelligence to all levels of command. SKY-Y, a development platform for two other projects forced ahead by Alenia Aeronautica, the MOLYNX for land surveillance and civil protection missions, and a yet undisclosed programme for long-endurance ISR operations, will provide, at least, similar operational capabilities as the PREDATOR-A UAS in service under Italian Air Force command.
IT IS NOT THE PLATFORM, IT IS THE CAPABILITY WHICH IS IMPORTANT
To operate UAS in the today’s and tomorrow’s joint warfighting network, it is imperative to recognise the significance of C4ISR. Whilst C2 systems (with command being the doctrinal assignment of authority and control being defined as guiding the operation) will be invaluable for strike missions carried out deep behind enemy lines, they appear to be equally useful in other missions such as intelligence-gathering special warfare or Combat Search & Rescue (CSAR) operations. With the “Shock and Awe” doctrine pursued by Coalition forces to overwhelm Iraqi forces by using extensive air raids carried out against critical enemy positions during the early stages of Operation “Iraqi Freedom”, the sharing of ISR information counter-intelligence to confuse the adversary was shown to be a cornerstone to support the planning and control of military operations. NCW, new Information Operations (IO) doctrine, and C4ISR are therefore seen to transform the knowledge available to forces and the nature of war. Battle planners say that the forces of the 21st century need to be so inherently mobile and agile as well as fully networked with onboard and offboard sensors and weapons to seamlessly receive and disseminate battlefield information. This breaking of the time barrier would be the outcome of the fusion of data into information and knowledge which must be rapidly disseminated, either in real-time or near real-time, by various means to other units, force components, and the C2 pyramid (at whatever level) for rapid interpretation, processing by humans or by automatic means, and decision-making.
Functioning in diverse environmental conditions, UAS are being developed with cutting-edge technologies involving moving target detection and identification through improved SAR sensors, low-observable designing, and low-cost automated flight control and navigation systems. The great challenge is to deploy them in a network environment to provide forces with information on the battlefield in time to allow them to act appropriately. As an example, Elbit Systems’ SKYLARK I/II mini-UAS has become a popular choice as nations like Australia, Canada, France, Israel, Singapore, and others see significant benefits from operating such an advanced UAS for the most demanding roles. In an effort to build on that success, Elbit Systems recently introduced the larger SKYLARK II mini-UAS for battalion-level ISR operations which is now attracting the interest of several international customers. On 17 December 2007, Elbit Systems announced that the SKYLARK-II UAS has been selected by the South Korean military as their preferred solution in a tender involving extensive technical tests and including UAS manufacturers from Europe, the US, and Asia.