6 Nov 02. Whilst the use of advanced UAVs such as Predator for hunting wanted terrorists is a major step forward in the war on terror, any suggestion that the UAV is the panacea for all such operations is premature. It was noticeable that the Predator concerned was operated by the CIA which has its own chain of command and communications structure. On October 30th, the RQ-1A Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle program reached a major milestone — 50,000 flight hours — Oct. 26 during an operational sortie from a deployed location, Predator program officials here at Aeronautical Systems Center announced today.
“This is a significant program achievement,” said Bill Grimes, director, Big Safari Program. “Predator gives the combatant commander ‘eyes on’ targeting and dramatically shortens the kill chain.”
The program also has received praise from the commander in chief. “Before the war (Operation Enduring Freedom), the Predator had sceptics because it did not fit the old ways,” President George W. Bush said Dec. 11. “Now it is clear that the military does not have enough unmanned vehicles.”
At present the UK command structure does not allow for sensor-to-shooter operations and one of the reasons believed for the delay in the implementation of the UK’s Watchkeeper programme is inter-service rivalry on UAV operations, Watchkeeper is currently an Army-operated system. The current UK communications infrastructure, even including the BOWMAN communications system cannot support the bandwidth required for supporting global UAV operations from the UK or indeed Europe. A lot of time and money will have to be spent to give Europe such a system and at present this appears only possible with co-operation with the French, embarking on another expensive and lengthy European programme. One spokesman told BATTLESPACE that he envisages a ‘data collision’ of MoD C4ISTAR requirements around 2005-6 when a number of programmes such as BOWMAN, GBAD, FRES and Watchkeeper will be coming on stream. At present the allocation of High capacity data radios is insufficient to meet the Link 16 and data requirements from these systems. One possibility seen is each programme re-inventing Digitization which could result in a plethora of new Bowmanesque systems. This is believed to be the reason why General Dynamics insisted on being part of the Alvis-led FRES team to prevent FRES becoming Digitization Stage 2 without the main contractor being involved.
Meanwhile sources close to BATTLESPACE suggest that the Watchkeeper announcement may be made next week, with a ‘marked jostling of teaming arrangements’, suggesting that there is all to play for amongst the four bidders, BAE SYSTEMS, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Thales.