105mm round on a mortar base plate in low light with no collateral casualties precise enough, sir? Has been done...
As MM suggests he's missed out the non-kinetic air - to be fair, I imagine that he's working on the basis that RW air is provided by the army rather than having an AF involvement (although even here he's missed the point that USAF RW assets have been used rather successfully in current ops).
They can do a lot, but less than Fred thinks. They're also eff-all use at responding quickly to emergency calls for CAS - there have been cases relatvely recently where even A-10s have taken an uncomfortably long time to get there, and compared to the Predator, the A-10 is speedy.
Also, while UAVs can do ISTAR, SIGINT etc, they simply can't do it as well as manned airframes at the moment. When they will be able to do it as well is also an interesting question.
UASs have their place, but they lack the robustness and capacity of many manned assets. For instance, the laws of physics demands specific dimensions for SIGINT sensors which even the largest UASs simply cannot accommodate. The cost effectiveness of UASs is also questionable.
Compare a Watchkeeper with a light role asset such as a Cessna Grand Caravan. The Grand Caravan has greater mission payload, is more resilient to weather factors such as cross winds and icing, has a lower attrition rate, requires less J6 and manpower to support it, can operate in civilian non-segregated airspace, and can operate beyond line of sight.
Watchkeeper has marginally greater endurance than the Cessna.
Unit cost of a Cessna Grand Caravan with EO/IR payload: approx Â£2M.
Unit cost of a WK air vehicle with EO/IR payload: approx Â£15M (based on the Programme cost of Â£800M for around 50 air vehicles).
MM old chap, I fear you're comparing apples with oranges. Any programme to get x Grand Caravan's into service would cost more - a lot more - than Â£2m multiplied by x. Training, logistics, ground kit and so on.
That said, the 450 is a poor choice. It's too big to be a cheap and cheerful throwaway asset, too small to carry a SAR around all day and night on a racetrack. It's also been expensively modded for a lot of UK only requirements that add very little extra capability for a lot of money - business as usual then for procurement. Plus the gunners know sod all about aviation so the prospect of it ever sharing a piece of sky with other manned assets is slim to non-existent. I can just see the USAF with their pilot trained UAV operators letting some gun bunny loose on the same net - not.
As to the original subject, I sat in on a talk about "Non_Traditional" ISTAR recently - all about sticking a pod on a GR4 and tracking the opposition in Iraq - all UNCLAS of course. All new, fresh and innovative. To the RAF. Thing is, to my eyes it was exactly the sort of thing that's been going for decades with UAVs (just ask the Israelis). It's only "non-traditional" because the RAF have for a long time forgotten one of their key roles. Their forebears in the original "AC" squadrons, the WW2 desert army support sqns, the Western Europe ATAFs in Normandy - and so on - would not be impressed. Still, good news the message is being received.
I was trying to make a general point that UAS are not a panacea. They have their place and we should be purchasing them. However, I wonder if we have yet got the balance correct.
You make the point regarding training and logs. There may be some long term logistics advantages to UAS in that generally you can fly them at a higher rate than manned assets. However, the numbers of personnel required to do that are ironically significantly higher than for most manned assets. Likewise, the Israelis, USAF and RAF have found the training burden to be a major issue for many of these systems with attrition rates to reflect that.
Again, we can expect some of these factors to ease as the technology matures. However, be in no doubt that âlow endâ manned assets such as a PC-12 or Grand Caravan can currently be procured and operated to arguably greater effect and for lower cost than unmanned systems. A balance needs to be achieved, but too many people are seduced by the UAS fashion.
As far as âNon-traditional ISRâ using pods on fast jets. It was first done by the UK (as well as various other nations) during the Bosnian and Iraqi NFZs about 15 years ago. It has gradually increased in importance as recent ops have placed the Land Component as the supported community and (more importantly) the pods have evolved to allow direct feeds to the troops on the ground. Again, all unclass and dutifully demonstrated by a certain Royal FAC in Afghanistan recently! Remember that the Israelis also continue to employ fast jet targeting pods in an âNTISRâ role alongside their UAS.
I believe that the new Chief of the USAF is an AC-130 driver rather than a FJ matey.