Posts Tagged ‘drone’

Light Attack Aircraft: A Niche That Doesn’t Exist

Monday, August 7th, 2017

The Air Force has an experimental program to deliver a low-cost light attack aircraft for ground support duties. The light attack aircraft experiment, or OA-X project, has produced propeller-driven aircraft that look like a cross between a Diamond DA40 and a rejected ME-109 prototype with modern weapons on underwing hardpoints.

The program theoretically exists because it’s not cost-effective to use an F-35 (at $32,000 per hour of flight time) to kill poorly-armed insurgents.

I think the entire program is bunk. (And not just because John McCain is pushing for it.)

It’s not that the need for a light, low-cost aerial attack platform doesn’t exist, it’s just that there’s no military or technological justification (at least in the American armed forces) for that platform to be a manned aircraft. Those mission parameters are already satisfied by cheaper drones whose capabilities continue to improve by leaps and bounds. The problem isn’t that the Air Force can’t fly drones (the MQ-9 Reaper is extremely capable), but that the Army, the Navy, the Marines and the CIA can all fly them as well.

The entire Light Attack Aircraft program exists because of an inter-service political issue: The Air Force neither wants to do close air support, nor wants to give up that role to the Army. Put a pilot in a fixed-wing aircraft, and the Air Force gets to keep the mission, along with the money and headcount that go with it.

And as for why the Air Force keeps trying to kill the one plane they already have perfectly suited for ground support, the A-10 Warthog, well, I and others have already written about that at length. As Jerry Pournelle once put it, “USAF will always retire hundreds of Warthog to buy another F-35. Always, so long as it exists. And it will never give up a mission.”

Video of French Forces Fighting the Islamic State

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

Here’s a video of French Special Forces operating against the Islamic State, including some mopping up operations in Mosul:

A few points of interest:

  • In the first few minutes there’s a glimpse of the tunnel systems that have become common in urban warfare where the defenders have had time to dig in.
  • I’m assuming that boxy weapon the French are shown setting up at 5:27 is a grenade launcher, but I’m not sure I’ve seen that make before. The closest would be the Heckler & Koch GMG, but it doesn’t quite look like it.
  • French drones (6:13) look like funky kit planes, and get launched with a tether assist. Whatever works…
  • Pentagon Successfully Tests Microdrone Swarm

    Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

    Given the name of my blog, you wouldn’t expect this development to escape my eye:

    The Pentagon may soon be unleashing a 21st-century version of locusts on its adversaries after officials on Monday said it had successfully tested a swarm of 103 micro-drones.

    The important step in the development of new autonomous weapon systems was made possible by improvements in artificial intelligence, holding open the possibility that groups of small robots could act together under human direction.

    Military strategists have high hopes for such drone swarms that would be cheap to produce and able to overwhelm opponents’ defenses with their great numbers.

    The test of the world’s largest micro-drone swarm in California in October included 103 Perdix micro-drones measuring around six inches (16 centimeters) launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, the Pentagon said in a statement.

    “The micro-drones demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying and self-healing,” it said.

    “Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” said William Roper, director of the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office. “Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.”

    And I tracked down video of the test:

    Of course, there are all sorts of military and ethical considerations to truly autonomous drones. Like what theaters do you deploy them in, and under what conditions. And what do the first time they decide to dismantle a schoolhouse, or kill one of your own guys…

    Tank Watch: Abrams To Control Drones?

    Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

    The army is thinking of making the M1A2 Abrams tank a drone control platform:

    The Army is preparing to configure Abrams tank prototypes able to control nearby “robotic” wing-man vehicles which fire weapons, carry ammunition and conduct reconnaissance missions for units on the move in combat, service officials said.

    Although still in the early stages of discussion and conceptual development, the notion of manned-unmanned teaming for the Abrams continues to gain traction among Army and General Dynamics Land Systems developers.

    Algorithms are progressing to the point wherein they will be able to allow an Abrams tank crew to operate multiple nearby “wing-man” robotic vehicles in a command and control capacity while on the move in combat.

    As for how good an idea this is, it depends on the drone and depends on the mission. Reconnaissance seems like a natural, and some drones might work well at over-the-horizon top-down attack roles against other armored vehicles in rough terrain or beyond the range of the 120mm main gun (which is plenty far), assuming they can find a way to defeat active countermeasure systems like Drozd and Arena.

    I can also imagine non-winged drones, like an updated, low-profile version of the old German Goliath tracked mine used for tasks like bunker clearing.

    The M1A2s equipped with the System Enhancement Package (SEP) already have considerably upgraded electronics, and drone control is probably seen as a natural follow-on. The question is where do you store the drones and, if they’re not launched from the tank itself, what advantages does having local control over give you over remote control. I suspect that needing to launch the drones from the tank before rotating the turret is going to be a non-starter in most combat environments. Maybe that could be done automatically, assuming the kinks could be worked out in autonomous operation (a big if; all it takes is one friendly fire incident to scuttle that idea right quick).

    (Hat tip: Stephen Green at Instapundit.)