Military services mull future of large UAVs

For manufacturers of large unmanned aerial vehicles, there was only a hazy picture of what direction that market will take at the recent Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's Unmanned Systems North America 2012 conference, reports Aviation Week.

As the shift moves away from the assymetrical warfare that characterized operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the Air Force and Navy are rethinking their strategy should they need to deploy UAVs against a so-called near-peer enemy that has substantial aircraft of its own and sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons, the story said.

With the Air Force's Next Generation Remotely Piloted Aircraft program now scheduled for the next decade, the service has plenty of time to ponder the requirements it desires, the story said. 

"We recognize the need to operate in denied airspace and to have a capability available by the early to mid-2020s,” Maj. Gen. James Poss, Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said in the story. “We are watching with great interest what the Navy is doing, because we think we have a common problem.”

The Navy will be the first to tackle the problem when it fields the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System by 2020. The military planners must decide the right approach, Poss said. “Do you go low-observable, do you swarm, or do you go with something cheap and cheery and attritable? We're not sure we know."

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