I've finally had the chance to review the entire Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Roadmap, and picked out some highlights of interest:
Future UAS will evolve from being remotely operated to fully autonomous system capable of 'self-actualization.' This will require human-level intelligence, specifically pattern recognition skills. The roadmap foresees development of enabling technologies in the 2015-2030 timeframe. (page 52)
Advances in flight autonomy and cognitive processes will allow UAS to move away from remote control by skilled operators towards full autonomy. Several stages of these technologies are reviewed, from remotely piloted vehicles in Vietnam, to high-endurance hand-flown reconaissance systems in the 1970s, to pre-programmed autonomous UAS in the 80s, to Global Hawk today and J-UCAS in years to come. (page D-9)
Several advantages of UAS over manned systems in terms of safety are listed on page F-10:
- Many aircraft mishaps are the direct result of poor decisions by human operators. Robotic aircraft are not programmed to take chances.
- Mishaps from failed life support systems are not an issue.
- Smoke from damaged non-vital systems does not affect UAS in the way that smoke in the cockpit of a manned aircraft does.
- Automated take-offs and landings reduce the need for local training missions, leading to less opportunities for mishaps at home stations. An historical look at UAS in combat is provided on page K-1:
- TDR-1 assault drones flown by pilots via television were used to drop bombs on Japanese positions in 1944.
- AQM-34 remotely piloted vehicles were flown on reconnaissance missions in Vietnam from 1964-1969.
- 18 RQ-2 Pioneer UAS were lost in combat in Desert Storm.
- 26 UAS of various types were lost in combat during the war in Kosovo.
- In the current conflicts in Afganistan & Iraq, combat losses of UAS have been reduced to an average of 2 aircraft per year.