Remotely operated surveillance or attack aircraft sound cheap and simple because they remove the need for a human pilot, but they can involve a lot of manpower-intensive stuff behind the scenes. That’s why some air forces may opt for aircraft that can loiter and strike the way a UAV can, but which still require that classic human touch, writes AvWeek’s David Fulghum:
Modern trainer designs in particular are being re-invented as light attack aircraft that can serve as a sensor truck for communications relay, long-endurance surveillance and intelligence gathering. The aircraft also would carry small, precision bombs, and perhaps—in a few years—multi-spectrum surveillance, communications jamming and electronic attack options. Aerospace industry officials contend there is a potential world market for thousands of such aircraft that includes law-enforcement organizations and disaster-relief agencies.
For example, the Hawker Beechcraft/Lockheed-Martin AT-6B is “inexpensive to operate and doesn’t require much satellite bandwidth,” says Derek Hess, director of the AT-6 light attack program. At the same time, it offers advantages an unmanned aircraft cannot. “Having a government official in the aircraft would make for fast decision-making when working cooperatively with the border patrol, homeland defense or fire-fighting support, particularly if you integrate them into a command-and-control network that’s already compatible with the A-10C [close air support aircraft].”
This brings to mind one of those newspaper cartoons from the early 2000s, in which characters were always losing their cell phones and saying, “Wouldn’t it be convenient if there was some kind of cord that connected our phones to the wall?” Same story here: It’s an aircraft with an onboard human crew that can operate its systems, make decisions, and use its capabilities to complete mission objectives — what a revolutionary concept!
Do you think a new generation of light aircraft can unseat UAVs as the platforms of choice for ISR, strike, or these other missions?