Transforming the Future of Warfare with UAVs
the Future of Warfare with UAVs
technologies are enabling highly capable new Unmanned Air Vehicles and providing
enhancements to existing systems.
AFRL's Air Vehicles Directorate,
Integration and Operations Division, Technology Integration Branch, Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base (WPAFB), Ohio. September 2002.
Unmanned Air [DML1]Vehicles (UAVs) have
demonstrated tremendous new warfighter capabilities—transforming the future of
warfare. The Navy's Pioneer demonstrated these capabilities during Operation
DESERT STORM and the Air Force's Predator UAV (see Figure 1) demonstrated them
in the Balkans.
Figure 1. Predator UAV
The Global Hawk reconnaissance UAV (see Figure 2) joined the
Predator, now equipped with a laser designator and Hellfire missiles, in support
of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. The Air Vehicles Directorate is developing
advanced technologies to enhance the effectiveness and affordability of UAV
systems as well as enable new and more capable UAV systems. Two integrating
concepts within the UAV focus area, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) and
SensorCraft, help focus the technology development on concepts related to the
warfighter. UCAV, jointly funded among AFRL, Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, and Boeing, matured from a concept to the X-45, achieving its first
flight in May 2002.
Figure 2. Global Hawk UAV
The directorate is developing on-vehicle
control capabilities to enable UAVs to be as safe and effective as manned assets,
but at significantly reduced size, weight, and cost. The approach is to develop,
integrate, and demonstrate the key capabilities for autonomous control: reliable,
compact, lightweight hardware and intelligent inner-loop control functions to
compensate for failures and changing flight conditions. Technologies in
development include photonic vehicle management systems, intelligent
reconfigurable control, prognostic health management, and automatic air
Researchers are developing mission control
capabilities that will enable multiple UAVs to effectively operate as a
cooperative group. The approach is to develop, integrate, and demonstrate the
key capabilities for mission management: self-adapting outer-loop control to
provide onboard capability to react to changing mission needs and formation
planning, guidance, and control. Technologies in development are addressing
multi-ship coordinated control and fundamental issues in path planning and
guidance for single- and multi-vehicle coordinated UAV operations.1
Researchers will break current air vehicle
design paradigms as they develop technologies to structurally embed and
integrate antennas, arrays, and subsystems into the wings and fuselages of UAVs.
These technologies will allow researchers to design vehicles around the
mission's sensor requirement rather than designing the sensors to fit the
constraints of the vehicle. Sensors for reconnaissance UAVs contribute to a
significant portion of the overall vehicle weight. Researchers will drastically
reduce this weight as technologies evolve to make the sensors structural
components of the airframe.
Operators primarily measure the effectiveness
and affordability of reconnaissance UAVs, such as Global Hawk, by endurance
capability. Increased endurance translates into longer range for more complex
missions or more loiter time over station, which means fewer vehicles are
required to maintain a continuous presence over the battlefield. Implementation
of adaptive structures, active flow control, and ultra-lightweight airframe
concepts specific to high altitude airfoil geometry enhance aerodynamic
efficiency. Flexible structures, coupled with advanced actuation concepts, will
enable aircraft geometry to adapt to changing flight conditions and increase
aerodynamic efficiency throughout the mission profile. Researchers will use a
considerable amount of modeling and simulation from basic science and component
modeling through, and including, mission simulation to explore vehicle
advantages and impacts of various technology sets.
Researchers will specifically design a new
generation of more-unitized structures for UAVs that will reduce manufacturing
cost and increase system readiness without weight or supportability penalties.
The approach is to identify, develop, and transition new structural design
concepts and manufacturing methods for both metals and composites that place
emphasis on reducing part count and the number of structural joints and
fasteners. Technologies in development include probabilistic design methods and
low-cost composite manufacturing processes from the automotive and general
aviation industries for more reliable bonded joints. Researchers are centering
design concepts on effective integration of unitized advanced composite and
metal structures, and focusing design methods and criteria development on
predicting failure for these non-traditional materials and manufacturing methods.
The length of the inlet and exhaust system
determines, in large part, the UAV's size and shape characteristics,
particularly combat UAVs. Lightweight components using active flow control
technologies will reduce the vehicle propulsive volume while maintaining low
observable compatibility. Figure 3 illustrates the flow improvement in a compact
inlet due to active flow control. One of the benefits of reduced propulsive
volume is a smaller and lighter vehicle with more room to carry fuel. Effective
propulsion integration is key to overall mission effectiveness.
Figure 3. Active flow control
Directed energy weapons (see Figure 4) will
provide tremendous new capabilities to future air vehicles. Small and
medium-sized tactical UAVs would be an ideal first application of these
technologies. The Air Vehicles Directorate is working with other AFRL
directorates to demonstrate the technologies required to efficiently and
effectively integrate these directed energy sources, and propulsion and power
systems into these types of air vehicles. Researchers will demonstrate flow
control around apertures to improve beam control for comparatively small
tactical laser systems.
Figure 4. Directed energy weapons
UAVs are transforming the way wars are fought.
The warfighter can gather intelligence information more effectively and less
expensively than before. In the future, pilots will not need to be put at risk
for the most dangerous strike missions. The Air Vehicles Directorate is
developing technologies to make these changes a reality.
1 McDowell, J. and Smith, R. "Agent-Based
Hierarchical Architecture for Autonomous Control of Lethal Unmanned Vehicles."
AFRL Technology Horizons®, vol 3, no 2 (Jun 02), 33-35.