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RCAF Authorities / Future Unmanned Aircraft for RCAF

Loachman

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For those of you wondering what Loachman and I are jabbering about, the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum has a very good research article with lots of photos about the Sperwer to compliment the exhibit which they have on the floor. It covers the project from the earliest deployments in 2003 until it exited service.

🍻
Excellent article, and I'll be going through it in detail.

The photograph on page 18/35 shows my last launch, from the Robonics launcher. It was a much better launcher than the original. A lot of people came out for the occasion, and then-Col Chris Coates was in the box with us for a bit. Sadly, it was a routinely boring flight.

Note the lack of the "OLOSP", SAGEM's name (they had some bizarre terminology, and none of us bothered with the weird full names, most of which were French; it was also referred to as the "payload") for the thermal imager and daylight camera ball in the photograph of 161001 on page 22/35. It was destroyed in the launch crash that I described in my last post.

From the "CU-161 SPERWER FLEET DISPOSITION/SUMMARY" beginning on page 26/35:

161001 - I don't remember the "engine kill button" being pushed "inadvertently". I heard one of the launch crew guys call for cancellation over the radio. I don't remember why. I'll have to look at my "war diary" to match up other events around that time.

There was a period where we could not get quite the engine RPM up to the point required for launch, and we could only hold it at full throttle for a very short period of time. I was on the verge of cancelling a few times, when the RPM suddenly increased at the last possible second. A cancelled launch would impose long delays - if we had another AV ready to go - or a mission loss, and usually a scarce muffler. We never found a cause. Every serviceable AV was affected. We had every fuel test done that was available. The only one that we could not have done was octane level, and this beast required a higher-than-normally available octane level. After a week or two, the problem just evaporated.

We had a similar problem with HNS (Hybrid Navigation System) units passing ground checks, failing during launch checks, being undiagnosable and passing subsequent ground checks only to fail on the next launch attempt. Old units were swapped for new, and between AVs, but no specific fault could be found. And then, after a couple of weeks, we suddenly had no further HNS problems.

My theory was that these things had an ability to communicate and spitefully conspired between themselves.

Edit, after reading through the article at a more leisurely rate: Page 19/35 "the vehicle again suffered further Category “B” damage on 01 November 2008, when the “engine-kill” button was inadvertently pushed during the launch sequence. The air vehicle was then again repaired. It never flew again. The "repairs" were only cosmetic, and, as previously mentioned, six broken propeller blades were spliced together to make two three-bladed propellers which were stacked and installed on the dead machine as a joke. Propellers were oak, and designed to shatter upon striking the ground in a less-than-ideal landing thus preventing transmission of the impact to the engine. The stacked two-bladed propellers were supposed to stop in an "X" position upon engine shut-down so that the tips would be a little higher on touch/smash-down, but would frequently stop in an "+" position, breaking the one pointing down. We had tri-walls of broken blades hanging around.

161002 - I mentioned this one previously as well. We got the first Robonics launcher while in Wainwright. It was much lighter than the original SAGEM one, could fold up and pack into a twenty-foot sea container, did not require the water-bag brake on the catapult (a real plus in Wainwright in winter), could be set for variable launch weights, and was much quicker to change launch heading whenever the wind opted to move out of limits. That early version had a few problems, though, like shearing rivets. On the crash mentioned, the AV cradle only went about halfway along the rails and then seized, still managing to fling the AV off into the air. Lacking the necessary speed, though, the AV descended slightly, shattering the oaken blades as described. Fortunately, the launcher was on a gentle hill, and the AV hit downslope in about a foot of snow, limiting damage and probably helping to prevent a ruptured fuel tank. It was returned to us in theatre.

161004 - this was one of the last two flown. I can't remember if I had that one for the final flight or a different one, but will check my log book.

161006 - "but the airframe was later stripped by locals"... That may have been the one/one of the ones where guys bought parts back from village market(s) - yes, we were that short.

161016 - This one was returned to us in theatre and was, I believe, the one with the inverted wing that I mentioned.

161017 - I signed for that one, and did not sign it back in. One of two engine cylinders failed, resulting in a significant power loss and engine RPM reduction. That was insufficient to trigger the "Engine Out" warning. Our first indication was "AV Approaching Stall Speed", which caused little concern as we often flew just a tad above stall speed to conserve fuel and extend mission duration. The standard procedure was to just bump the throttle up a little. That did not work this time, and we eventually realized that it was descending. We lost line-of-sight contact when it descended behind Masum Ghar, or another adjacent mountain. Unbeknownst to us at the time, it was still in climb attitude as it was attempting to get back up to its assigned altitude. Note that there were no conventional instruments in the GCS. Depictions only appeared on the monitor in from of each GCS crew member. Many were very small. We would have had a much better idea of what was happening were we onboard, and could see, feel, and hear - but then we, too, might have been "scavenged by locals". We had just launched and were on our way out to where we were going to be operating when this happened.

161019 - "Bang". Fortunately, the bulldozer was unmanned at the time that the little grey cruise missile slammed into it. If I remember correctly, it made a nice fireball. We were in Wainwright when this happened, and monitoring Roto 5's series of losses very closely, hoping that a couple would survive long enough for us to play with them in theatre.

161028 - This was the first one that I signed out and not back in, the day before 161017. Recovery was carried out autonomously, so that was engaged just before the AV was established on its recovery track. There was, at that point, nothing for us to do but watch the triangular AV symbol move along parallel to that track while the smaller square with a parachute symbol in its middle followed along the track. That symbol would show where the AV would land when recovery was initiated, compensated for wind. We would use that time to tidy up the inside of the GCS. Once the recovery symbol reached the recovery point, it would stop, and the AV symbol would move to meet it, while often twirling around a little beneath the parachute. This time, it continued for a bit while veering off. We didn't think much of it, because it didn't look too abnormal, until the 4 AD Ops Guy burst into the GCS and said "you know you crashed it". My response, I think, was "Fuck off. No, we didn't." The funniest part was the recovery crew (who were also the launch crew). Every launch and recovery was videotaped as that could be a major clue for the Flight Safety investigators. The camera guy was doing nicely until the parachute failed and it started tumbling, as did the camera view as everybody yelled "It's going to crash".

161031 - The third and final one that I signed out and not back in. The engine had not actually failed, but the RPM sensing system had - loose wire, if I remember correctly, and that was found on the other surviving machines as well. We could not tell, however, and did not have time to dick around before we lost it behind the electronic shadow of Masum Ghar again, so I ordered a recovery. It came back in two small boxes. Our Flight Safety guy was very nervous about going out for the recovery. "Can I have your stuff if you don't come back?" did not go over very well.

So, I just realized, we killed both the first and last Sperwers bought, plus a few in between.

I have to go back through the list for the six months before us as see how many Roto 5 wrote off. They accounted for more than we did, and we flew almost twice as many hours.

FJAG - PM me for Flickr details and access to my military photographs. I've got thousands of photographs in there, but many/most are SCA or railway ones.
 
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dimsum

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That's terrific and we'll definitely talk again when I get to that phase later this year.

For those of you wondering what Loachman and I are jabbering about, the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum has a very good research article with lots of photos about the Sperwer to compliment the exhibit which they have on the floor. It covers the project from the earliest deployments in 2003 until it exited service.

🍻
It would have been nice if they had a Heron and a Scan Eagle as well, to show how different the three were.
 

TangoTwoBravo

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When did you first work with Sperwer? I definitely would like to interview you when it comes time for the the further look at these as we moved from Sperwer to Heron to ScanEagle and Skylark and Maveric and Raven and Blackjack.

There is one item that is interesting me right now (just as an aside). When 2 RCHA deployed a troop (essentially one launcher, some ground stations and several aircraft in 2003 it was a captain's command with some 25 pers. When 408 deployed it in 2006 the establishment had slid up to over 50 with a major in charge but basically the same launch and mission control capability. Were you involved at that time? and if so, maybe send me a PM if you know the rationale for the changes.

🍻

At the risk of furthering a tangent from a rather interesting thread on airpower, the Sperwer piece on the Aviation Museum did bring up memories. I was a Capt in the ISTAR Coy HQ in Kabul - we had the first UAV Tp in our sub-unit. To your point about staffing levels, by the time the UAV Tp deployed they had a considerable RCAF component - mostly technicians but also the four AC commanders. I recall the Tp was close to 50 when you included all those folks and the SAGEM dudes. We also had an eight-person RCAF testing team for a good portion of the tour, plus two advisors from the Dutch Army. When I saw the Sperwer organization in early 2006 in Kandahar I thought that the RCAF construct made sense.

I was involved in some tough conversations in late 2003/early 2004 with senior folks in Ottawa at odd hours as the Sperwer reality set in after the great expectations. I recall watching Sperwer 003 majestically (and silently) sailing over the Queen's Palace from my CP door to the quite excited report of the recovery crew that the chute had not deployed. I put my coffee cup down in the CP and proceeded to have a busy morning. The recovery/destruction of 005 was a major endeavor. There was also an awkward pause when it was learned that 005 and 006 had been assembled in theatre and used on my order..as a Captain. Didn't know I had to ask permission...Bad Captain! Bad!
 

FJAG

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At the risk of furthering a tangent from a rather interesting thread on airpower, the Sperwer piece on the Aviation Museum did bring up memories. I was a Capt in the ISTAR Coy HQ in Kabul - we had the first UAV Tp in our sub-unit. To your point about staffing levels, by the time the UAV Tp deployed they had a considerable RCAF component - mostly technicians but also the four AC commanders. I recall the Tp was close to 50 when you included all those folks and the SAGEM dudes. We also had an eight-person RCAF testing team for a good portion of the tour, plus two advisors from the Dutch Army. When I saw the Sperwer organization in early 2006 in Kandahar I thought that the RCAF construct made sense.

I was involved in some tough conversations in late 2003/early 2004 with senior folks in Ottawa at odd hours as the Sperwer reality set in after the great expectations. I recall watching Sperwer 003 majestically (and silently) sailing over the Queen's Palace from my CP door to the quite excited report of the recovery crew that the chute had not deployed. I put my coffee cup down in the CP and proceeded to have a busy morning. The recovery/destruction of 005 was a major endeavor. There was also an awkward pause when it was learned that 005 and 006 had been assembled in theatre and used on my order..as a Captain. Didn't know I had to ask permission...Bad Captain! Bad!
Please send a PM to Petard and I with your particulars. I'd like to set up a ZOOM interview with you and get some of your recollections recoded if you are willing.

🍻
 

Kirkhill

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So far behind the times, me.

Somewhere along the way I made reference to Project Taranis - a Brit UCAV concept vehicle.

Since then ...

The Brits have launched:

Project Tempest for a Typhoon follow-on that is "optionally manned"


and

Project Mosquito


"which will design and manufacture a prototype for the UK’s first fleet of unmanned fighter aircraft, according to a Jan. 25 press release from the Royal Air Force (RAF).

“Project Mosquito is a vital element of our approach to Future Combat Air, rapidly bringing to life design, build and test skills for next-generation combat air capabilities,” Richard Berthon, director of future combat air, said in a press statement. “Autonomous ‘loyal wingman’ aircraft create the opportunity to expand, diversify and rapidly upgrade Combat Air Forces in a cost-effective way, now and in the future."

The goal of Project Mosquito is to create a demonstrator for the RAF’s Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) concept with flight tests by the end of 2023, according to the release.

“The Project will deliver a demonstration of a capability that the RAF may wish to develop further in the future,” a spokesperson from the RAF told Avionics. “It is not intended to output an operational capability at this stage, but it will inform future decisions for the future UK combat air capability. We are exploring the optimum way in which such capabilities could complement platforms such as Typhoon, F-35, and Tempest as loyal wingmen.”"

According to the RAF release, these aircraft could have capabilities to target and shoot down enemy aircraft and survive against surface-to-air missiles. The aircraft would fly alongside Typhoon, the F-35, or the Tempest to provide protection, survivability, and information as part of the future combat air system.

“We’re taking a revolutionary approach, looking at a game-changing mix of swarming drones and uncrewed fighter aircraft like Mosquito, alongside piloted fighters like Tempest, that will transform the combat battlespace in a way not seen since the advent of the jet age,” Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff, said in a press statement.

Spirit AeroSystems will work with Northrop Grumman UK on Project Mosquito, according to the release. The deal spans three years and will create over 100 jobs in Belfast.


In July 2019, the Dstl announced that Phase 1 contracts had been awarded to three teams, led by Blue Bear Systems Research, Boeing Defence UK, and Callen-Lenz. The latter is part of Team Blackdawn, which brings in the expertise of Northrop Grumman and Bombardier Aerospace’s UK division headquartered in Belfast. Dstl and its partner agency, the Royal Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), expect to make a down-select to one or two teams imminently.


Curious potential involvement of Bombardier.

Other people in the race (from the same source).


LANCA is similar in scope to those being undertaken elsewhere. The U.S. Air Force has launched its Skyborg UCAS program and is evaluating the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie—which has already flown several times—as a “loyal wingman.” Boeing Australia has designed a similar Airpower Teaming System vehicle that the Royal Australian Air Force will evaluate in its Loyal Wingman advanced development program. The first of an expected three evaluation vehicles rolled out in May. In Europe Airbus is leading the development of “remote carriers” as part of the Franco-German-Spanish SCAF/FCAS effort. Russia, too, has a manned-unmanned teaming project with the low-observable Sukhoi T-70 Okhotnik UCAS, expected to partner with the Su-57 manned fighter.

All of the projects seek to create a transonic, networked vehicle that makes heavy use of artificial intelligence so that it can make its own decisions within the wider framework of a planned mission and even fly some missions autonomously if desired. Vehicles can be used to augment the manned aircraft in terms of weapons or be used for reconnaissance and defense suppression tasks. The use of multiple air vehicles in coordinated swarms can saturate defenses.

2023 is coming up pretty fast (just ask the Light Infantry Battalions and the Force 2025 goal).

In the meantime, the RAF has re-established No. 216 Squadron at RAF Waddington to develop “swarming drone” technologies and capability. The RCO’s “Many Drones Make Light Work” project is now in its third and final development phase, with Blue Bear having performed a successful first test in March. Five fixed-wing drones were flown in a series of co-ordinated operations, controlled by a single operator.


RAF may be considering cutting F35Bs but has added, or is planning to add, a squadron to play with swarming drones, a lone endurance uav squadron, 3 MALE UAV squadrons and a raft of ISTAR squadrons. Not to mention a Space Command.

I'm thinking that there is something in the wind and that a lot of things are going to look very different in the next 5 years.

Both technology and circumstances.
 

Kirkhill

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Further to my last - another "Old" report - May 4, 2020


SYDNEY (Reuters) - Boeing Co sees mass production of its unmanned, fighter-like jet developed in Australia likely happening by the middle of the decade, an executive said on Tuesday, as it rolled out the first of three prototypes.

"We are expecting middle of the decade, maybe a bit earlier that this will be in production," Shane Arnott, the programme director of Boeing's Airpower Teaming System, told reporters.

He said up to 16 of the Loyal Wingman drones could be teamed with a manned aircraft for missions and it was on track for its first flight by the end of the year.

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Air Vice-Marshal Catherine Roberts said the Loyal Wingman's role could include carrying weapons in combat and protecting assets like the E-7A Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft as well as being used as a target to shield manned fighter jets such as the F-35A and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Defence contractors are investing increasingly in autonomous technology as militaries around the world look for a cheaper and safer way to maximise their resources.

The Australian government has invested A$40 million ($25.71 million) in development of the product, which Roberts said had also attracted interest from the United States and United Kingdom as potential future customers.

The Loyal Wingman aircraft is 38 feet long (11.6 metres) and has a 2,000 nautical mile (3,704 kilometre) range and a nose that can be removed to fit various payloads.

 

Kirkhill

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Quick question - do "drones" need to be "stealthy"? Or is it more important that they be cheap? And thus attritable, if not expendable.

It seems to me that the original attraction of the UAV, aside from removing the risk to pilots, was that it was cheap and thus expendable.
Now, it seems to me, that the US in particular, is engaged in its usual spiral of making its kit ever more expensive requiring ever more defences making it ever more more expensive resulting in ever fewer units and ever less availability. Fewer units, risked less frequently.

Meanwhile others, like the Turks, and the Israelis, seem to be embracing the "good enough" concept and exploiting the value of the least cost formulation to achieve "big battalions" right now - battalions that can be used the way Napoleon or Stalin used their battalions.
 

Kirkhill

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Or are we getting tied up in some version of the "Precautionary Principle"? Freezing in place until we have perfect knowledge of the future?
 

Kirkhill

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On The Precautionary Principle....


... The precautionary principle was incorporated into EU jurisprudence with the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 and has become over time the defining ideological feature of an ageing, defensive, status quo society that seems to be afraid of everything.

As it happens, 1997 also marks the moment when Europe began to decouple from the US and go into economic decline, although monetary union also dates from that time and has played a role. It is an astonishing thought that per capita income in the eurozone had actually slipped to $39,928 even before the pandemic hit, while in America it had kept rising to $62,795, according to World Bank data. The post-Covid gap will be even wider.


The precautionary principle has been married with another EU deformity: its slow, rigid, legalistic ethos, and its 190,000 pages of near-irreversible Acquis. The two together have reinforced each other in a paralysing fashion. This regime is perfect for vested interests that know how to play the Brussels game and manipulate the regulatory committees. The zero-risk code can be mobilised to shut out rivals and new technologies that pose a commercial threat.

Is it a coincidence that the EU has become a technology spectator over the last quarter century, while America and China vie for supremacy? Might the precautionary principle be the reason why not a single one of the world’s 20 most valuable tech companies is European, and why the region lags again in artificial intelligence?

It is true that BioNTech’s ground-breaking mRNA vaccine was made in Germany, but its founders are Turkish immigrants and most of the clinical trials took place in the US, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa. It is famously difficult to conduct clinical trials in the EU.

It is also true that the precautionary principle has made inroads into Anglo-Saxon societies. But only up to a point. The US, the UK, and Canada still cleave towards the ‘innovation principle’, a preference for trial-and-error and a willingness to risk failure along the way — “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

You could argue that this philosophy has its roots in English Common Law, a legal culture that loosely permits behaviour unless explicitly forbidden by statute. It is fundamentally different from Napoleonic law that prohibits behaviour unless explicitly authorised – “guilty until proven innocent”. Legal scholars will object to this contrasting schema but it contains a nugget of truth.

The innovation philosophy also has roots in the Baconian Method: the scientific interrogation of facts: the bottom-up empiricism of Francis Bacon and his followers, from Newton through to the Scottish Enlightenment, and beyond. There are great Baconians in Continental Europe of course, but they are not dominant.

What is dominant is the top-down Cartesian Method instilled into the French civil service, and through them into the EU’s machinery. It has fused with the zero-risk totemism of modern Germans to produce a precautionary monster, and a long list of destructive policies. The consequence of banning GMO crops – that is to say, refusing to use technology to tweak genes for better yields – is that you end up using more chemicals instead. Cui bono?
 

daftandbarmy

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On The Precautionary Principle....




Apparently being a little too 'smugly socialist' is a dangerous posture for the long term:

Reviving innovation in Europe​

Europe a century ago was a global powerhouse of innovation, but it has started to lose its edge: today, despite some notable exceptions, many innovative companies are found elsewhere. Europe is falling behind in growing sectors as well as in areas of innovation such as genomics, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence, where it is being outpaced by the United States and China.

A discussion paper from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), suggests five paths that could help the continent regain its competitive edge. The paper, Innovation in Europe: Changing the game to regain a competitive edge (PDF—395KB), focuses on ways that Europe could seek to build on its strengths rather than trying to play catch-up, given that it is hindered by fragmentation and lack of scale. This article is a condensed version of the original paper, which draws from MGI research as well as from a recent collaboration with the World Economic Forum.

1615913392930.png

 

Ostrozac

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Quick question - do "drones" need to be "stealthy"? Or is it more important that they be cheap? And thus attritable, if not expendable.

It seems to me that the original attraction of the UAV, aside from removing the risk to pilots, was that it was cheap and thus expendable.
Now, it seems to me, that the US in particular, is engaged in its usual spiral of making its kit ever more expensive requiring ever more defences making it ever more more expensive resulting in ever fewer units and ever less availability. Fewer units, risked less frequently.

Meanwhile others, like the Turks, and the Israelis, seem to be embracing the "good enough" concept and exploiting the value of the least cost formulation to achieve "big battalions" right now - battalions that can be used the way Napoleon or Stalin used their battalions.
The US has a number of the enormous and expensive, like Tritons and Global Hawks, but they also have thousands of lower end systems like the Ravens. The correct answer is, of course, that you’ll want a mix.
 

Kirkhill

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That prescription still seems awfully corporatist to me - it puts decisions in the hands of the few rather than the many. It is designed to keep large organizations on top.

Europe isn't the only place suffering

Canada used to be a lot more innovative than it is today. Can we blame the Autopact and the institutionalization of the Branch Plant?
 

Kirkhill

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The US has a number of the enormous and expensive, like Tritons and Global Hawks, but they also have thousands of lower end systems like the Ravens. The correct answer is, of course, that you’ll want a mix.
Which way should the Loyal Wingman concept go? Keep it as a reusable vehicle in the Tomahawk price range? Or push it up into an early F16 price?
 

Underway

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Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Unless the culture changes (which it won't) then you can post all the strategies that you want. You're just wasting paper until there is a revolution in behavior.
 

Kirkhill

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Agree entirely that culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Can't agree that culture won't change.

Mother culture is the term used for a broth from which reproducible cultures can be reproduced by inoculating sterile ground. Mother culture, mother tongue, milk tongue. These things, like genetics leave a lasting impression on the individual. Not indelible but lasting. It changes but generally changes slowly (although my kids exhibit different cultural traits than me).

Institutional culture is different. It is the sum of the cultures of all its individuals. And as the individuals change, either within themselves or by replacement, the culture of the institution changes.

The world is replete with institutions that now represent cultures diametrically opposed to those they defended previously.
 

FJAG

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On The Precautionary Principle....

... It is an astonishing thought that per capita income in the eurozone had actually slipped to $39,928 even before the pandemic hit ...


One needs to factor in that the EU has incorporated a large number of Eastern block countries which have very low economies and thus dragged down the overall averages for many statistics.

On the drone issue. Cheap and plentiful. Treat them as expendable munitions (although we already spend much too much on things like Excalibur and some of the more esoteric HIMARS/MLRS munitions). Those costs need to come down or we'll bankrupt ourselves just before we're overrun.

:giggle:
 

FJAG

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160932124_4205643112802141_662773326036543385_o.png
 

GR66

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One needs to factor in that the EU has incorporated a large number of Eastern block countries which have very low economies and thus dragged down the overall averages for many statistics.

On the drone issue. Cheap and plentiful. Treat them as expendable munitions (although we already spend much too much on things like Excalibur and some of the more esoteric HIMARS/MLRS munitions). Those costs need to come down or we'll bankrupt ourselves just before we're overrun.

:giggle:

So as the drones/loitering munitions become cheaper and more plentiful, what does that mean for our GBAD plans? Do you use a missile to shoot down a loitering munition that doesn't cost much more than the missile you're shooting? Or do gun-based systems become more attractive?

Are drones/loitering munitions and Rockets/Artillery/Mortars going to be a bigger threat than larger, more expensive manned aircraft that many GBAD systems are designed to counter? How quickly will you run out of missiles on a modern battlefield? Will EW solutions, decoys, dazzlers, and more sophisticated camouflage become more important? Or do you make targeting by the enemy more difficult with a larger number of less valuable and more dispersed targets to choose from?
 

blacktriangle

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So as the drones/loitering munitions become cheaper and more plentiful, what does that mean for our GBAD plans? Do you use a missile to shoot down a loitering munition that doesn't cost much more than the missile you're shooting? Or do gun-based systems become more attractive?

Are drones/loitering munitions and Rockets/Artillery/Mortars going to be a bigger threat than larger, more expensive manned aircraft that many GBAD systems are designed to counter? How quickly will you run out of missiles on a modern battlefield? Will EW solutions, decoys, dazzlers, and more sophisticated camouflage become more important? Or do you make targeting by the enemy more difficult with a larger number of less valuable and more dispersed targets to choose from?
Interesting that you should bring this up, as I had been asking myself similar questions recently. Not to mention the implications for tanks, major surface combatants, and satellites/orbital vehicles...
 
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