AEW aircraft do more than just sense. They are a command and control node for aircraft. That requires humans providing the control and relaying the command.
Isn't that AEW&C aircraft though (not just AEW)? Am I splitting hairs for the definition of the term by leaving of the "&C"?
The reason I ask is perhaps an odd idea.
AEW UAS/RPAS rotary wing for naval assets.
The concerns regarding this are thus. First is how AEW work (hence my questions). My research suggests the negatives of rotary wing AEW are endurance both of the aircraft and crew (flying in a shaking helicopter gets tiring) so missions are shorter. Altitude is not as high so sensor coverage has limitations. Space for the sensor, leading to less powerful radars. Space for pers in the back to do the command control nodes.
Could one remove the command/control function and essentially make it a radar extension for the ship. Over the horizon, early detection of a missile/aircraft would give a ship more time to respond, and with an active missile be able to begin the engagement beyond the 20-25NM range of most ship based radar horizons. It would also mean that an AAW platform wouldn't need a carrier of somesort to provide early detection of airborne threats below the horizon. It could do it for a TG that didn't contain that sort of air support.
Depending on the size of the UAS its likely one could fit two in the space of a single ASW helicopter, and have an added capability for a TG.
The problem I can see with would be the latency of the information and the volume of information sent to the ship. There is a lot of processing that goes into command/control and people are required to deconflict between linked out tracks, their own sensor tracks, as well as different sensor input tracks. My suspicion is that AEW&C aircraft do this in situ on the aircraft and then Link out their already processed/corrected information to the rest of the battlespace in order to manage the situation. A UAS wouldn't be able to do this processing and should just send the raw data to the ship/control station to be processed by bigger computers and smart people there. Which then would have it integrated into the ships tactical picture, and then Linked out to the rest of the TG.
So maybe AEW isn't the correct term. Maybe this is an Airborne Remote Sensor.