Although studying the origins of UAS development is crucial to understanding the evolution of UAV/UAS, its status in modern times is what we’re concerned with in this course.
UAV/UAS has shown sporadic appearance over time, and individual appearances have lacked momentum and continuity. It has become the pattern for UAV/UAS to serve a limited purpose and then discontinue as the purpose is satisfied. The utilization of UAS during the Vietnam War is a good example of such a sporadic rise of the use of drones. Very little was achieved surrounding the development of UAS after the war ended. This is not the case with the current period of unmanned aircrafts development.
In the last two decades, UAV technology has become very strong. This is mainly due to advancements in the fields of GPS, IMU, and electronics. Since the wars in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, the pilotless aircraft industry has witnessed increased and sizable investment that has continued to the present time.
The use of pilotless aircraft in Desert Storm in 1991, and later in Desert Shield, can be considered to be the first wide scale deployment of UAS/UAV. During Desert Storm, some 500 UAS sorties were conducted to support intelligence gathering and to guide heavy artillery from battleships in the Persian Gulf. The success in deploying UAS in desert storm convinced militaries around the world of the usefulness of UAS in spotting enemy locations and directing artillery units.
Strong opposition to the use of UAS for defense purposes came from manned aircraft pilots and their leadership. They found a weakness in the technology that supported their claims. They built their case on the vulnerability of the data link, especially for the UAS, that relies on line-of-site based operation. However, advances in the space communications field, especially GPS, weakened their claim, as the space-based data link made the UAS no less more vulnerable than the piloted aircraft.
The United States has committed valuable resources and investments to the development of the modern UAS. NASA was immensely involved in such developments, as it is clear in the following video clip (4:48):
The use of UAS in US Army combat operations grew from 51 operational UAS in 2001 to over 4000 in 2010. Studying the “US Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap 2010-2035” can tell a lot about the importance of UAS in the US Army’s current and future activities. The Roadmap states that “Army UAS are the ‘Eye of the Army’ and support information dominance by providing the capability to quickly collect, process, and disseminate information to reduce the sensor-to-shooter timeline. In addition, UAS support tactical echelons in Army and joint operations and provide the warfighter a tactical advantage through near real-time situation awareness, multi-role capabilities on demand (including communications, reconnaissance, armed response, and sustainment applications), and the ability to dynamically retask.”
UAS use for daily civilian activities is no less important than it is for the armed forces. UAS are used around the world for different tasks, and most recently, for package delivery. The first video below (1:12) provides a fairly good idea about the different types and uses for the modern day UAS. UAS commercial use outside the United States is growing rapidly, as is illustrated in the second video clip. Growth in the commercial UAS market within the United States is slower than one would like to see due to tight regulations by the FAA. UAS is not allowed to be used for any commercial purposes in the United States. In a recent report, 6 Predictions for 2016: UAV Experts Discuss Important Developments for Commercial Drone Applications, by Jeremiah Karpowicz of the Commercial UAV News, the author discusses the latest developments in the UAS market and technologies as well as predictions on the status of UAS use for commercial applications.
- Chiles, J. Air and Space Magazine, "Drones for Hire." Last modified January 2013. Accessed February 4, 2014.
- Maksel, R. Air and Space Magazine, "Robot Reporters." Last modified November 06, 2012. Accessed February 4, 2014.
- Commercial UAV News report "6 Predictions for 2016: UAV Experts Discuss Important Developments for Commercial Drone Applications"