When we hear military leaders talk about the need to automate elements of Unmanned Aerial Systems we often think in terms of the manpower-intesnive intelligence collection side of things or of one pilot/sensor operator crew controlling multiple aircraft. However, another must-have item in reducing UAV manpower is automatic take-off and landing technology, according to a senior U.S. Air Force official.
Auto take-off and landing will allow UAVs to deploy around the world without bringing their own launch-sand recovery teams and equipment (such as a trailer containing a UAVs ground cockpit along with communications links), Lt. Gen. Philip Breedlove, the Air Force's top requirements officer, said during a breakfast with reporters in Washington last week.
Automated technology is being looked at as a way to cut operating costs for UAVs and increase the number of drones available for use around the world. Air Force officials routinely say that the number one limiting factor in the amount of UAVs deployed is the lack of trained aircrews. Combatant commanders around the world can't wait to get their hands on more UAVs, but until more crews are ready the vast majority of drones will be dedicated to the skies over the Middle East.
Cutting the launch and recovery elements could free up a serious number of crews to fly the planes on actual missions from stateside bases. Also, given the fact that the number one expense Pentagon officials say they need to get under control are personnel costs, you can bet military planners are looking at this as a way of reining in spending.
-- John Reed