UAVs aren't going to be as useful as they have been in Afghanistan and Iraq because, in the next real war they are much more likely to face armed opposition from the ground and from the air.
The outgoing commander of US air assets in Europe, Gen. Roger Brady, told a recent UAV conference that "the burden of proof, in my opinion, is on the proponents of UAS."
He cited maneuverability and stealth limitations as arguments against UAVs in contested airspace. It turns out the folks at General Atomics have been listening to these arguments and looking ahead. Chris Ames, director of strategic development, said they are developing a stealthy, jet-powered version of the Predator.
Predator C/Avenger will have a jet engine's maneuverability, be able to fly at 400 knots for up to 20 hours and carry an impressive 3,000 pounds to 6,000 pounds of ordnance, Ames said.
The requirement doesn't exist yet -- at least not in the unclassified world -- but Ames says the company is aiming at the Navy's unmanned carrier aircraft -- Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) -- and at the Air Force's long-range strike program. Basically, it looks as if the strike program will include manned and unmanned capabilities and GA is targeting the unmanned portion. He also said the Missile Defense Agency is interested in the capability.
Add to that likely markets for the intelligence agencies and foreign customers such as the UK's Scavenger UAV development effort, and Ames thinks "the market is going to be significant." He wouldn't offer specific numbers, citing the lack of requirements but said he expected a market for "hundreds" of stealthy UAVs.
To be clear, these UAVs would not be stealthy in the fashion of an F-22 but they would boast radar-observing materials and design modifications to reduce radar cross-section. The plane will be able to fly above 50,000 where it could perform electronic warfare functions, Ames said, as well as plug holes in satellite coverage.