Tom Bielek

An aerospace and defense system engineer discusses the adoption and advancement of unmanned vehicles for civil and military applications.

What regions are increasing the use of unmanned vehicles?

Strong growth is expected across the board for military, security, and commercial applications. Although the demand for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is high, the growth rate is somewhat mitigated by budgetary constraints in most NATO countries for military applications. In the commercial sector, growth is hampered by unclear legislative and regulatory situations in most countries. The U.S. market is expected to remain the dominant market for UAVs and is expected to account for more than 40 percent of the global market in the next five years. The Asian and Middle-Eastern markets are showing strong growth. Although Europe sees an important and strategic need to develop its UAV market, it is still marked by a lack of concerted effort in its UAV development programs.

What concerns or challenges are associated with unmanned vehicles?

Most of the command and control (C2) technology challenges are well known such as collision avoidance, data fusion from multiple sensors, autonomous operation, communications bandwidth and security, etc. and are applicable to both civil and military use.

In the military domain, another challenge has to do with morphing traditional air defenses to deal with the sheer number and type of UAVs-everything from miniature germ-carrying machines to full-size hunter-killers armed with missiles and laser weapons. For example, in October 2012, a UAV entered Israeli airspace in spite of its "Iron Dome" air defense system. While the system can readily detect and shoot down short-range guerrilla rockets, it did not intercept the slow-flying aircraft. An Israeli fighter later destroyed it but the cost and method of doing so could be viewed as overkill. Further, it might be impractical in a massive UAV attack.

Is it possible to take out a swarm unmanned aircraft, operating autonomously with redundant systems and encrypted data links?

As UAVs become more countermeasure-immune, air defense strategies and technologies will have to keep pace. Most industry and government resources are focused on improving UAV capabilities but when you turn the picture around and look at what it will take to defend against this evolving threat, the implications are immense.

Avoiding detection is another challenge. Stealth technologies exist for manned aircraft but have not been implemented to a large extent with the current fleet of UAVs. Silencing engine noise, especially in low speed, low altitude UAVs is another problem. Noise cancellation techniques to reduce noise at the source before it radiates outward is an area that should be explored with the same attention as that given to quieting submarines during the Cold War.


NAME:Tom Bielek
TITLE:System Engineer
ROLE: Designer and manufacturer of specialty data communications solutions for military and government agencies

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August 2015
Volume 26, Issue 8

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