Heating up the UAV debate again, a mid-April experiment demonstrated that a battle-damaged combat drone could deal with the simulated hit and land autonomously within a few feet of its intended touch-down point.
Defense Tech readers will remember the argument made by retired Air Force colonel Tom Ehrhard a couple weeks ago that the Navy should be concentrating more on developing combat UAVs in order to maintain the persistence over the battlefield that every ground commander is asking for.
Ironically, the flight test sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Agency and conducted at Aberdeen proving ground on April 19 used a scaled down version of an F/A-18. Engineers created the in-flight damage by ejecting an aileron from the drones wing. The navigation systems and in-flight controls adjusted, bringing the pilotless plane safely back to Earth.
Damage tolerance is an enabling capability for increasing the mission reliability of UAVs and Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAVs) operating in hazardous and high-threat environments. The technology provides for real-time autonomous accommodation of damage, followed by an adaptation process that alters the flight control system to compensate for the effects of the damage.
Admittedly, this is a small step with a limited impact on just one area of concern over the UCAV concept. But its steps like these that could bring aerial robot wars to our enemys skies sooner than one might imagine.