THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 20 Dec. 2012. The growing importance of unmanned vehicles stands as a testament to the evolution of military technology, and that's the reason that Military & Aerospace Electronics is introducing an unmanned vehicles section in the monthly print magazine, and a companion monthly e-newsletter that goes to subscribers on the third Tuesday of every month.
Unmanned vehicles, which operate on and below the oceans, in the air, in space, and on the ground, enable fundamental improvements in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and are poised to take center stage as front-line weapon systems that help keep humans out of harm's way.
It stands to reason that Military & Aerospace Electronics should be paying unmanned vehicles the kind of attention that this new technology deserves. You can view our inaugural Unmanned Vehicles eNewsletter online at http://newsletters.pennnet.com/mae_enl/183815081.html.
When we look at military history, we can point to a handful of technological breakthroughs over the past 5,000 years that transformed warfare, and gave almost an overwhelming advantage to the forces that had these new technologies.
These breakthroughs include the chariot, which for the first time gave speed and mobility to fighting forces and laid the groundwork for the cavalry (chariots also set the standard gauge for modern railroads, but that's another story).
Sailing ships brought warfare to the oceans. The cannon rendered castles and fortresses obsolete. The machine gun neutralized the infantry and cavalry charge. The submarine to this day remains the only true stealth technology. Paratroopers and helicopter air assault forces did for 20th century warfare what the chariot gave to the ancient world. The aircraft carrier defined the notion of power projection, and the atom bomb remains the most powerful weapon known to man.
These technological breakthroughs initially made their users invincible. It took time, espionage, innovation, and a lot of clever thinking to come up with ways to defeat these technologies. For a good long time, each one was king of the battlefield.
So against this sweep of history, how might unmanned vehicles fit in? Are they as transformative as the chariot, the cannon, the aircraft carrier, or the atom bomb? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Time will tell the true advantages of the unmanned vehicle.
In history, cataclysmic battles and events clearly demonstrated the might of history's military breakthroughs. The 1274 BC Battle of Kadesh between the Egyptian and Hittite empires in modern-day Syria was the chariot's finest hour. The Ottoman siege of Constantinople in 1453 was perhaps the first devastating use of the cannon. The Battle of Midway in 1942 made the aircraft carrier king of the seas, and Hiroshima in 1945 ushered in the nuclear age.
The intelligence-gathering value of unmanned vehicles is well demonstrated. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can remain on station over areas of interest sometimes for days at a time, making them one of the most valuable persistent-surveillance platforms available.
The real combat value of the unmanned vehicle today is far more political than it is military. Unmanned vehicles help keep humans out of harm's way. As a result, battlefield casualties can be reduced, and UAVs cut down on the possibility that a human aircraft pilot will be shot down, taken captive, and remain in the headlines for months, if not years.
As a weapons platform, the UAV with its light missile armament has killed terrorist leaders and taken out attacking forces in the Middle East. As an air-to-air fighter, however, UAVs have yet to demonstrate their prowess in combat. Most of today's UAVs are relatively slow and clumsy, and make easy targets.
Still, the Northrop Grumman X-47 prototype unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) is in advanced tests from aircraft carriers, so its proving day may be close at hand.
So, unmanned vehicles are of growing importance to the U.S. military, and they are to us, too. Subscribe to the monthly Unmanned Vehicles eNewsletter online at www.militaryaerospace.com/newsletters.html. The link should be effective shortly after the first of the year.