Unmanned Technologies. The future of the concept of Air Power

Essay, 2019

14 Pages




Militaries around the world are heavily investing in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) technologies and drone warfare. These technologies are leading the evolution in airpower. The United States, China and several other developed and developing countries are involved in the massive development of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs), including Boeing X-45 and Sharp Sword (Davis, 2012). UCAVs are being developed to perform roles, which are currently undertaken by modern manned fighter aircraft. With these developments, military experts have indicated that there is a high likelihood that future UCAVs will have built-in autonomy. Regarding weaponry, there are several developments, such as micro-munitions, electromagnetic bombs, self-protection weapons and Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs), which can be attached to UAVs (Mueller, 2010). Electromagnetic bombs have the potential of delivering sharp bursts of electromagnetic pulse thus can be used to damage electronic targets without harming humans and the existing infrastructure. On the other hand, DEWs uses high-power microwave and high energy lasers as weapons. These weapons are currently designed and developed in line with the endurance of UAVs thus can be used even with light vehicles. Given the complex nature of modern warfare and technological advancements of enemies, military experts predict that in the future UAVs will play a crucial role in battlefields around the globe (Kopp, 2009). This is attributed to the fact that UAVs are capable of minimizing risks of human life, which are associated with operating in hostile territories and poor weather. In this essay, I argue that unmanned technologies will be the future of military airpower around the globe in the year 2040.

Analysis and Discussion

Airpower is a broad subject that comprises of how nations’ political and security actors use aviation. In general, airpower can be described as the use of flying vehicles to attain a nation’s security goals and interests. Airpower can also be defined as the application of military strategy that involves aerial warfare and close air support. Airpower has been evolving since the advent of the powered flight in the early 20th century (Kainikara, 2018). Currently, one of the main features of airpower is the ability of the security operators to reach targets, which cannot be accessed by land and maritime forces’ capabilities due to either geographical challenges or the ability of the enemy defense. Airpower also includes the tactical and strategic penetration of the enemy lines and destroying their key infrastructure and other critical targets. Another important feature of airpower is the speed at which a country can respond to a threat. Modern UAVs are fitted with various types of sensors designed to perform functions, such as searching, locating, and identifying elements of importance in a mission (Davis, 2012). Due to these features, UAVs are increasingly becoming a central element with the systems and capabilities of air forces around the world. In this regard, UAVs are considered high leverage systems of the future militaries.

Current Trends in Airpower

Remotely piloted aircraft have been in use for at least 50 years now. However, its usage has increased significantly in the last two decades with UAVs playing important roles in modern military strategies. For example, the Iraq war saw the United States deploy extensive use of UAVs with their Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Kainikara, 2018). UAVs were also used in Afghanistan to provide direct support to military operations and played a vital role in the detection and killing of Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, there were concerns regarding the effectiveness and capability of UAVs in combat environments. In both countries, several UAVs were shot down due to their low speed and vulnerability (Mueller, 2010). However, once the US forces gained superiority in the air, UAVs were successfully used in providing close air support. This success was attributed to their ability to fly over the Area of Operations (AO), provide intelligence to the ground forces and help to effectively neutralize threats. UAVs also helped to minimize the sensor-shooter loop allowing the UAV pilot to seamlessly complete the Fix, Find, Track, Target, Engage, Assess (F2T2EA) loop leading to enhance targeting accuracy (Davis, 2012).

UAVs are increasingly used in militaries around the world to track enemy movements and avail intelligence, which can allow for concise decision-making and effective strike strategies to be planned and executed. Recent estimates indicate that spending of military forces on armed and unarmed UAVs will reach more than US$11.4 billion in 2022 (Watts & Biegon, 2019). In addition, out of the 70 militaries that have developed or are developing UAVs, only 23 were found to be developing armed ones. Most of the countries adopt two aircraft concepts in attempts to improve their Air Force’s unmanned fleet. First, countries adopt the autonomous drone prototyping program known as Skyborg. Aircraft that use this program is cheaper and the program can be easily replaced. Furthermore, it is expected that the program will be combat-ready by 2024 (Brose, 2019). Skyborg integrates several AI technologies used in flying and controlling aircraft in the airspace. The program also allows for the introduction of complex features that enable the aircraft to perform certain functions independently. Skyborg is still at the research stage with the first autonomous aircraft expected by the end of 2019 (Brose, 2019). Alternatively, countries can adopt Kratos’ XQ-58A Valkyrie. The first flight using this program was launched in March. This program is designed to enable unmanned aircraft to perform long-range strike and intelligence as well as reconnaissance missions.

Globally, the use of UAVs for combat roles has not really taken off. It is only the United States that has consistently used these vehicles in covert operations but to a limited extent. The slow rate of spread of armed UAVs is attributed to the US export restrictions, which allow the sale to its most friendly nations (Kopp, 2009). Meanwhile, the development of airpower capabilities in countries, such as Russia and China, makes it more realistic that unmanned aerial technologies will be the future of military airpower. For instance, China and Russia are already engaging in the development of these technologies to enhance their range of air-to-air weapons (Brose, 2019). These technologies help to produce weapons, which can automatically go beyond visual and sensor reach. In addition, these technologies lead to more accurate and responsive strike capabilities. Experts argue that the increase in development and utilization of these technologies is down to their ability to minimize time to deliver a strike while increasing the speed of airlift.

Tactically, airpower is still limited to computing, sensing, and data compression ability of a particular military or intelligence organization. Unmanned innovations must, therefore, integrate aspects of finding, tracking and neutralizing a target in a single platform (Mueller, 2010). This can be done by improving the reliability of unmanned technologies to perform the functions and reducing the targeting cycle. At the operational level, airpower already creates desired outcomes due to absolute assurances and minimal collateral damage. Due to these advantages, militaries are leveraging on unmanned technologies as key aspects of their future military strategies. Besides, advances in radar and sensors, as well as the on-going developments in counter-stealth technologies, have enhanced the capability of air forces operating undetected. Already most modern air forces use Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) since they are difficult to track and target thus making them effective in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) as well as enhancing the offensive capabilities of these militaries, especially in penetrating a network of sensors (Kainikara, 2018).

Additionally, there is an increase in the use of pre-programmed and autonomous UAVs to independently execute missions. These technologies have been highly successful in covert operations, especially those targeting terrorists and their networks. The autonomous capability of contemporary unmanned technologies gives air forces a critical advantage as it ensures that they can react quickly to threats and make decisions much faster (Fawkes & Menzel, 2019). Moreover, these technologies remove the geographical barrier factor in accessing a target. It also expands the ability of the militaries to breach communication and electronic networks of the opponent. In this regard, the use of unmanned technologies is strategic as it maximizes the effectiveness of strike capability. Around the world, military modernization has been found to involve some forms of acquisition of various types of unmanned technologies for distinct purposes. Specifically, most countries acquire these technologies to use as stealth fighters or to gather intelligence (Brose, 2019). Despite the effectiveness of these unmanned technologies, there is an ongoing political debate on whether they should be used in combat. The critics of their deployment argue that they could lead to higher costs in collateral damage. Hence, future unmanned technologies developments focus on how to minimize collateral damage and use of non-kinetic weapons to reduce adverse effects on the infrastructure and humans.


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Unmanned Technologies. The future of the concept of Air Power
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Anonymous, 2019, Unmanned Technologies. The future of the concept of Air Power, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/498856


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