SAF/PA 96-1204 UAV
Technologies and Combat Operations
This document has been cleared by SAF/PA
Cleared for open publication on 6 Dec 96
This summary is a product
of the United States Air Force Scientific Advisory Board Study on UAV
Technologies and Combat Operations. Statements, opinions,
recommendations and conclusions contained in this report are those of
the study members and do not necessarily represent the official position
of the USAF or the Department of Defense.
The Air Force has entered a new era, an era in which the unmanned aerial
vehicle (UAV) has become not only acceptable, but desirable, for long-
endurance reconnaissance missions. It is timely then, for the Air Force
Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) to review technology maturity in the
context of accepted Air Force mission tasks and to project new UAV
mission tasks-both combat and noncombat-that might be enabled by
available and forecast technologies. Thus, the Air Force Chief of Staff
directed the 1996 study "UAV Technologies and Combat Operations."
The study report includes a Summary Volume (Volume I) and a Volume that
includes the individual Panel reports (Volume II). The Summary Volume
deals first with the mission task concepts, then the platform
considerations that bound the air vehicle parameters, then the
system/sub-system elements (i.e., mission systems and weapons), and
finally, the human factors considerations. An example point design-a
Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) UAV with a roadmap for
programmatic accomplishment-is provided along with a recommendation that
a SEAD demonstration program be pursued. Some special subjects are
presented, followed by overall recommendations and concluding remarks.
The reader is referred to Volume II to more completely understand the
approach and deliberations in the specific areas, and to discern a more
complete set of conclusions and recommendations. Additionally, some
issues for which complete study was beyond the scope of, or time
available in this study are also presented in Volume II.
The study group identified a number of findings relative to the
application of UAVs to Air Force roles and missions:
- UAVs have significant potential to enhance the ability of the Air
Force to project combat power in the air war.
- UAVs have the ability (range, persistence, survivability, and
altitude) to provide significant surveillance and observation data
economically, compared with current manned aircraft approaches.
- UAVs have the potential to accomplish tasks that are now, for either
survivability or other reasons, difficult for manned aircraft including
counterair (cratering runways and attacking aircraft shelters),
destroying or functionally killing chemical warfare/biological warfare
(CW/BW) manufacturing and storage facilities, and suppression of enemy
- UAVs can be weaponized in the near-term1 (perhaps using advanced
versions of the Tier vehicles), using an existing weapon and
hypervelocity kinetic energy penetrators with a family of warheads.
- Insufficient emphasis has been placed on human systems issues.
Particularly deficient are applications of systematic approaches to
allocating functions between humans and automation, and the application
of human factors principles in system design.
- Most other technologies necessary for platforms, propulsion,
avionics, and mission systems are sufficiently mature to provide initial
UAV capabilities of the nature described above. Further technology
development can significantly enhance these capabilities.
- New warhead technologies-namely intermetallic high temperature self-
propagating synthesis reaction incendiary and "flying plate" concepts-
can provide the UAV the ability to deliver compact weapons capable of
inflicting devastating damage to a large number of fixed and moving
- Little thought has been given to appropriate responses to enemy use
of UAVs, particularly those armed with air-to-air missiles.
In order to fully exploit the potential of UAVs, the Air Force must
think of them as new and complete systems with new combinations of
advantages and disadvantages, rather than as vehicles with a single
outstanding characteristic or as a slight variant of an existing
vehicle. Thus, advances must be made across the board, including
concepts of operation, platform, weapon, mission systems technologies,
and especially, human systems.
Operational Mission and Mission Task Concepts
The study group assessed UAV contributions to Air Force missions and
promulgated 22 missions/tasks to which UAVs can contribute. The
following nine missions are representative of UAV mission needs and
serve as a context in which to address technology opportunities. In no
particular order, they are:
Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction
The study analyzed each of these missions in terms of operational
capability and ability to exploit the enabling technologies. Platforms,
propulsion, mission systems, and weapons were considered, as were human
factors aspects. Challenges were identified and programs were
suggested. The Air Force is encouraged to consider these and other
missions in more detail and to establish programs in those that, after
further analysis, are determined to be appropriate.
Theater Missile Defense-Ballistic Missiles/ Cruise Missiles
Fixed Target Attack
Moving Target Attack
Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses
Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance
The Air Force should also be on a continual lookout for new or non-
traditional missions, some of which may complement existing roles
(e.g., use of UAVs as the "eyes" for B-52s, thus averting costly B-52
upgrades) and new missions that may leverage technology advances (e.g.,
seeding and monitoring unattended ground sensors).
The introduction of UAVs into the Air Force operational and
organizational structure is considered an evolutionary process, highly
dependent on a series of operational demonstrations of which the current
Predator, DarkStar, and Global Hawk programs are part. These
demonstrations are key to developing technical and operational
confidence in UAVs. Specifically, the Air Force has the opportunity for
near-term demonstrations in the following mission/task areas:
- Enhanced ISR missions with electronic support measures (ESM), foliage
penetration, and advanced radar sensors, coupled with automatic target
cueing or screening, and advanced fusion concepts,
- ESM and jamming payloads for detection, precision location, and
neutralization of radio frequency emitting threats,
- Fixed and moving target attack using UAVs to detect and locate
targets based on image-coordinate transformation, cueing, and advanced
- Communications and navigation support, based on the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA) UAV Communications Node concept, but
adding Global Positioning System (GPS) augmentation pseudolites for
precision guidance under GPS jamming,
- Suppression of enemy air defenses.
The study Panel made numerous detailed recommendations which are found
in Volume II. The major recommendations are outlined below, with more
detail on each provided in Chapter 11 of this Volume.
- 1. Take the lead role in programs to exploit the near-term UAVs
(Predator, DarkStar, and Global Hawk) in Air Force, Joint and National
- Pursue the SEAD mission as an early application of UAVs in an attack
- Initiate a program, perhaps with DARPA, that leads to the development
and deployment of advanced penetrating combat UAVs in the mid- to far-
- Increase emphasis on effective techniques for flight management and
employment of UAVs.
- Establish UAV experimental capabilities to address crew-vehicle
flight management concepts and increase emphasis on human system related
topics in development programs.
- Expand work in engines, air vehicle structures, and flight management
- Supplement avionics and mission systems technology base programs in
mission system automation, miniaturization, and sensor aperture areas
critical to UAV operations.
- Initiate a modular weapons and warhead program specifically oriented
to the mission tasks most suited to UAVs.
- Initiate a broad program to address opportunities for dramatically
reducing operations and support costs for UAVs.
- Promote command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I)
architectures that consider UAVs in the context of the overall Joint
- Develop systems, concepts, and processes for UAV airspace management
- The study group adopted the use of near-term (1996-2005), mid-term
(2005-2015), and far-term (2015-2025) as the periods in which initial
operational demonstrations could occur.
1The study group adopted the use of near-term (1996-2005), mid-term (2005-2015), and far-term (2015-2025) as the periods in which initial operational demonstrations could occur.