Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Orbits in Vogue in Air Forces Old and New - Implications for Energy and Force Planners?

Choose whatever metaphor you like: sprinters vs. long distance runners; the tortoise and the hare. We are in a liminal zone where supersonic manned aircraft, while not likely to go extinct anytime soon, certainly seem poised to cede control over a great deal of airspace to their more plodding, but persistent unmanned rivals. Here's how the well informed War Is Boring bloggers see it:
As fighters fade, armed surveillance orbits take their place. These orbits can be scaled, according to the threat. You want airborne sensors, capable of loitering for hours, and in many cases able to attack, on short notice.
This article is particularly thought provoking as it describes building two new Air Forces from scratch in Iraq and Lebanon in the era of emerging drone dominance. However, whenever I post on UAVs (which is often, most recently here), I'm not pretending to bring any answers to the table. And what's right for these clean slate forces almost certainly is not right for us. But imagine:
  • You're a strategic planner in the Pentagon and you've been tasked with constructing combat scenarios 5, 10, 20 years out
  • And imagine you're supposed to be thinking about requirements for airborne tankers, as some most definitely are these days
  • Well, how do you modify the proven formulas for calculating how many tankers are required and how much fuel is going to be needed in a combat zone for a given scenario when, by the time we get there, the numbers of very thirsty manned fighters, fighter bombers and surveillance and reconnaissance planes is falling linearly? and ...
  • Their smaller, lightweight, fuel stingy replacements are coming on in exponential waves and are staying in the air for days?
  • And when I say smaller, consider the MAVs - micro air vehicles the size of small birds - described in a recent AFRL report on UAVs covered in the Air Force Times
  • Not to mention the question of where the fuel is going to come from ... and from what (if other than extracts of prehistoric vegetation) it will be made?
  • Will there even be a need for tankers for UAVs and MAVs? Will the tankers also be autonomous?
As before, all I can say is "to be continued ..."

Photo of Orbiter micro UAV: Defense Update

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