Predicted shortage of UAV operators

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by deSTABlised, Sep 16, 2008.

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  1. This article appears in the September 6th-19th edition of the IET magazine, Engineering and Technology. I had to scan it as I couldn't find it on line, so apologies if the grammar/punctuation has gone tits up.

    UK forces face shortfall in UAV operators

    THE USEFULNESS of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to UK armed forces could be jeopardised by a lack of trained operators. A review of the role UAVs play in gathering battlefield information found that action is needed to avoid a 70 per cent shortfall in senior operators when new craft are introduced in two years’ time.

    The House of Commons Defence Committee interviewed senior figures from the military and industry for its assessment of the contribution of UAVs to ISTAR (intelligence, surveil lance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) capability. It heard that systems deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are providing “battle-winning capabilities” and are proving effective in counter-insurgency operations, but found concerns about the numbers of people trained to operate them.

    Three types of UAV have been acquired as ‘urgent operational requirements’. Reaper, used in Afghanistan since autumn 2007, is a 4,500kg vehicle with a 20m wingspan. It carries a full motion video sensor and synthetic aperture radar and is armed. Capable of flying missions lasting 16 hours, it is operated by RAF personnel based at a USAF ground control station in Nevada using a satellite communications system.

    Hermes 450 went into service in July 2007 in Iraq and Afghanistan and is provided by Thales UK. Weighing 450kg and with a 10.5m wingspan, it can fly for 14 hours, operating at slower speeds and lower altitudes than the Reaper, but has to stay within radio line of sight of the ground control station. It is launched by a contractor- provided external pilot and operated by Royal Artillery personnel before control is handed back to Thales for recovery and landing.

    The hand-launched Desert Hawk 3, which carries out hour- long missions, has also been deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with 144 vehicles operated by the Royal Artillery from 18 ground control stations.

    From 2010, Hermes will be superseded by the Watchkeeper system that Thales UK is developing from the same platform.

    A deficit of army UAV operators was identified as a ‘pinch point’ in the government response to the committee’s report on the MoD accounts for 2006 07. This reported that between October 2006 and January 2008 the deficit had fallen from 51 per cent to 48 per cent as a result of take up of £10,000 bonus payments for three years service. Manning for 1JAV operators in the RAF is broadly in balance.

    The Royal Artillery requirement for UAV operators has recently been increased in preparation for the introduction of Watchkeeper Measured against this, the MoD estimates that senior operator shortfall based on current manning levels would he around 70 per cent. The army plans to address this through extra training courses and transfer of personnel from trades where manning levels ate being reduced. Financial retention incentives may also he used.

    The MoD also acknowledges that greater use of full motion video has increased the requirement for imagery analysts. leading to a shortfall of so 18 per cent within the RAE In the short term this is being addressed through training, and the MoD is developing an overall strategy for recruitment and retention.

    Asked by the committee why the deficit was so large, Air Vice Marshall Stuart Butler, capability manager for information superiority with the RAE said the situation had improved “considerably” this year and stressed that it had had no impact on operations. “What we are doing on the odd occasion is stretching people a little bit much, but we do not actually have deficit for supporting current ops.” he said.

    AVM Butler also admitted that there is a shortage of imagery analysts. “They are quite difficult to train. it is quite difficult to get the right people and at the moment we do not have as many as we would like, but we are working through processes to ultimately get us up to the level that we need,” he said.

    In their final report committee members warned that they expect to be updated on what actions ate taken to address the problems they have highlighted.

    Committee chairman James Arbuthnot said the MoD may have been slow to appreciate the potential of UAVs. hut now recognises the important contribution they can make. “The UAVs acquired for current operations are proving very effective in collecting ISTAR information. However, improvements are required in how this information is processed and disseminated. The MoD must push forward with its planned improvements so that our armed forces can continue to achieve information superiority over the enemy”
  2. From the article.

    So not so long ago, we were "stretched but not over stretched" and "doing more with less". Now we are stretching people a little bit much on odd occaisions. :roll:
  3. Commonly known as shite. I'm reminded of a dolt I nearly had the misfortune of working for; I decided to find employment elsewhere when he said to an employee, 'Work smarter, not harder'. :roll:
  4. Until the Artillery drop their 1950's trade union approach to manning the kit we'll continue to have problems. Their insistence on using two men (one with an Arty cap badge; one with another) to do what other nations accomplish with one causes these problems. It's not about operational efficiency, it's about ensuring the right number of cap badge slots. For if we were genuinely interested in operating UAVs efficiently we'd create a multi-cap badge unit. If you've seen how others do this sort of thing it's embarassing to return to our setup.

    And yes, I know the lads work hard and all that, it's not a dig at the people involved, just at the luddites who've held back the utility of these assets playing cap badge politics.
  5. Not sure where you get these facts from. RA comply with the Release to Service requirments for each Air Vehicle Type (directed by DAAVN as the Army Operating Authority for all aircraft) and the relevant Flying Orders for each type. These do not denote capbadge requirements but do require certain qulaifications and trades. Desert Hawk can be flown by other capbadges (REME tradesmen for example have backfilled) but the solution at the moment is for the RA to do it as they have the capacity using qualified UAV tradesmen for Hermes 450 and re-roling HVM operators for Desert Hawk. There are significant C2 and air space and deconfliction issues for UAVs that mean that they need to be flown by experienced and trained ops and commanded in a coherent fashion. This leads itself to using formed units as opposed to dishing out UAVs to all capbadges.

    The UK has a considerably better safety record for UAV operation than other nations who are more liberal with their deployments.

    I am not sure how a multi capbadge unit would add any advantages. You would have to man it from accross the Army, therefore depleting other units of some bright soldiers and then how long would you keep the soldiers for? A 2 year ERE tour? Much better to create a trade where the soldier grows up operating and commanding UAVs than dipping in and out.

    There are micro-UAV solutions being explored that can deliver an over the hill/round the corner capability to all arms that will be far less complex, far cheaper (disposable AVs, wrist monitors etc) and due to limited duration and operating ceilings will require very limited airspace deconfliction.

    There are currently issues with manning but this is a product of the high level of operational requirement for UAVs and the strain it places on the limited pool of trained operators - no different for other pinch-point trades. This is however being addressed with the creation of additional sub-units and by re-roling other sub-units that are noty required for current operations.

    I personally feel UK have it right and many of the other nations are p1ssing aboout. Do I detect, Strange, sour grapes that this is a role that the Gunners undertake (as they traditionally have since Drone in the 70s) and not your own capbadge?


  6. Actually drones entered RA service circa 1962, and have been operating them ever since, for most of this time the rest of the Army didn't give a toss. I think this makes RA the longest operator of tactical UAVs in the world, I do hope someone is thinking about a suitable 50th anniversary celebration.

    Don't know how it works now but originally the arrangements were RA pilots and ground crew, Int Corps image analysts and REME maintainers.
  7. [quote="pensionpointer
    I personally feel UK have it right and many of the other nations are p1ssing aboout. Do I detect, Strange, sour grapes that this is a role that the Gunners undertake (as they traditionally have since Drone in the 70s) and not your own capbadge?



    Thank you for proving my point.

    (And I base my statements on far, far more than I do at the weekends, including direct experience of how others do it and how we mismanage it dur to capbadge politics.)
  8. So Strange, How do we mismanage it? Are our HQs and troops on the ground no being provided with the information/images that they require? i fail to see from your original post what the issue is? I think one man operation of UAVs would be problematic and unsustainable. For DH3 we have tried to resist 2 man dets on grounds of Force Protection, rest/sustainability, redundancy (to cover injury/R&R) etc. DH3 does not routinely use an Int Corps IA as these are in scarce supply so I fail to see where your 2 capbadge complaint comes from. Higher level systems that are not controlled from forward areas do make use of Int Corps IAS to great effect as these are very skilled specialists that glean considerable intelligence from the product.

    Support your argument properly or crawl back under your rock.


  9. I'm afraid your ignorance of alternative operator methods and the world outside the UK UAV community has caused you to misunderstand my comments. I'm not referring to manpack UAVs such as DH3, they require very little skill to operate and as such can be operated by anyone, from any cap badge, after a fairly short course. Most decent video games these days are harder. (or if they're not, you've bought the wrong one)

    I'm looking up the food chain where the tasks performed by 2 or 3 crew in other operators are smeared across a wide variety of individuals. I'm not too sure that a discussion of operational matters is appropriate; rather I would ask a few questions:

    How many people do airspace management requests pass through ? If the UAV controller is not talking to direct to whatever form of ATC exists locally and other parties flying in the area then that's a waste of people(call it battlespace if you must, it's the same thing).

    How many people does the info pass through to get to the user ? If the user is not the analyst and on a direct line to the end user (not some non-value adding drone in HQ generating Powerpoint) then you're wasting people. To this end I can recommend the article in a recent BAR that defines said number; it's more than you'd think.

    And the operational benefit is not in question; rather it is whether or not that could be achieved using a different, smaller manpower pool. However, until those concerned find themselves able to even consider the possibility of learning from others, and stop reacting violently to anyone who challenges the current orthodoxy I fear we will not progress. Of course historically this is nothing new, we tried to use tanks like horses back in the 30's.
  10. Ah but Strange these aren't all Gunners. In fact there is only one system like this that the Gunners operate. The others are RAF. UAV op establishments are actually fairly taut but consist of 5 capbadges. Still don't see how making this more of a multi-capbadge unit helps- presume you mean volunteers from any arms? Combined pilot/IA is certainly feasible but relies on the Int Corps being prepared to share the role or allow their IAs to be pilot trained. Boils down to trade structures etc and admittedly some capbadge poilitics! actually there is a more fundamental issue of trades, quals and pay accross the Army that would inhibit too much cross training). i would still argue that you get a better product from seperation of these tasks. BM is complex and air ownership or at least co-ord at these operating levels usually rests with light blue but the pilot does talk directly to the controller if required. As for feed to user, this depends on the timeliness. If it is a requirement for live coverage this will be streamed to the user - usually a formation HQ. Less time sensitive requirements can have value added by analysts.

    I don't think that spills any beans!


  11. Do you happen to wear a white lanyard by any chance? Not that I'm suggesting that you're blustering like a good 'un at anyone having the temerity to suggest that the Dropshorts are playing politics with manning, you understand...
  12. Who,

    I've never worn a white lanyard in my life!


  13. The Yanks are putting their undergrad pee-lows on to UAVs for their first tours - that will obviously ease out any bumps in the airline recruitment schedule!
  14. The boy has a helicopter/diesel powered-type thing. Hasn't crashed it once. Lets's have six year olds run the programme.
  15. Haven't you heard, it's the latest bit of kit being issued. ;)