Tuesday, November 18, 2008

UAVs' Unknown (But Potentially Enormous) Impact on DOD Energy Demand

Recent DOD Energy Blog posts like this one have show strong trend lines towards greater use of UAVs by the US military. Much greater, in fact. Now this Slate article makes it clear that our Predator drones are doing a great job in Afghanistan, military and politically. 

And guess what that means? We're going to make more of these aircraft, train more ground-pilots, and keep UAVs in the air more often. I need to find out how much fuel these planes use per hour and how long a typical mission is. And how many are in the air at any one time. And how many will be in the air in a year. And will sensor and comm (if not weapon) systems be miniaturized enough for them to be carried on lightweight versions powered in part, or in full by solar/fuel cell/battery/etc. 

While the comparison is far from perfect, here's a taste of how much JP8 some of their manned counterparts consume from Dr. Karbuz's most recent paper:
  • B1-B bomber: 59 gallons per minute
  • B-52 bomber: 54 gallons per minute
  • KC-135 tanker: 35 gallons per minute
  • F-16 fighter: 13 gallons per minute
I wonder if someone at the Pentagon is keeping track of this and thinking about what this trend might do to AF and Army energy budgets and logistics?  

Lastly, it's not just the US that's learning how effective they can be, see the cautionary note the conclusion of the Slate piece about how other countries are becoming enamored of UAVs as well. And not just our friends.

Photo courtesy of Mike Hawes @ Flickr

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