The U.S. Army is about to retire about 25% of its helicopter fleet composed of HueyCobra attack helicopters and Huey utility helicopters, which in the same procss casts away 1/4 of its hard to replace aviators. The loss of skilled aviators in time of war was THE factor that led to the loss of air supremacy and with it, the war for Japan in WWII. The U.S. Army of just 10 active-duty Divisions is in the same predicament with the control of the low-level air space critical to ground maneuver and decisive, lasting victories. To control the low-level air space from under which the Army fights requires low-level aviation platforms, and the aviators to fly them. The challenge is to find the way to do this with shrinking funds.
The conventional line of thinking is if an aviation platform is aging is to upgrade it or replace it with a more capable type. The man-in-the-loop--the pilot and gunner's survival---is the standard driving the costs to upgrade and when this failed to be desirable led to a completely new type of aircraft, the AH-64 Apache and UH-60L Blackhawk being fielded. Yet, even with all of the best enhancements there is still risk and we have reached the point where the risk is often so high politicians are afraid to use piloted aircraft for some missions and the aircraft are too costly to replace older aircraft, resulting in us "throwing the towel in" and just retiring aircraft and trained aircrews, which as numbers shrink put the entire 3d Dimension of the low-level air space at risk to enemy control and exploitation. As the cost and complexities of aircraft spiral higher, we can only afford less and less until we put ourselves out of the warfighting business because we don't have the numbers to fight. The Air Force realized in the 70s it couldn't buy all F-15s and bought less expensive F-16s to create a "high/low mix". What the Army needs is to create its own "High/Low" mix by retaining the Hueys and HueyCobras and using them to advance the state-of-the-art in military combat aviation by becoming the first dual manned/unmanned platform types.
Use Technology to value human involvement
Recently U.S. Air Force studies have concluded that a combination of manned and unmanned mission options would render the best courses of action for future war situations.
Thesis: is an excellent study of the entire situation
The article here on F-16 as Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) shows hoe existing aircraft can be modified to get a UCAS capability:
Furthermore, Congress has ORDERED the U.S. military to have 1/3 of all its ground and aircraft unmanned by 2015--what is the ARMY going to do about this?
What we have to do to reverse the self-destructive course of throwing away mechanical advantage winning, physical platforms when they can't be kept as primary manned systems compared to newer types and instead make them perform a different, better function not being done. We need to realize that PHYSICALLY, the old helicopter platforms are not significantly inferior in performance compared to the newer types that have been MENTALLY enhanced with electronics. Helicopters in general fly at about 100 miles per hour at altitudes under 10,000 feet. So why not take these helicopters we were going to throw away and use them for a new, vitally needed purpose?: as Unmanned Close Air Support (UCAS) "expendable" platforms in situations where we do not want to risk the aircrew by remote piloting electronics? If its good enough for a F-16, why not for Army Cobras?
When we need the positional advantage from the low-level air in order to shoot and hit the enemy, lets send in UCAS "RoboCobras" in and have their aircrews fly them remotely on the ground. In situations where the enemy threat is lessened, and we need the on-scene eyes of crews, we can fly them with men. If they have to be ferried from CONUS to the battle area, manned pilots will be needed to insure they get there and not just crash if a mechanical problem arises. The RoboCobra aircrews will remain flight proficiency flying their aircraft while in the National Guard, retaining in the Army a large pool of trained aviators that can be used to fly their aircraft in low-risk situations, remotely in high risk situations or transition to other aircraft if needed in a war emergency. The RoboCobra will also put the NG Aviation community on the "cutting edge" of battle finally with a mount that can be used without fear of risk of pilot loss by the Nation's Joint Commanders. They will be able to maintain high levels of remote flying proficiency via simulators, even if only one weekend a month.
The AH-1Z "RoboCobra"
1. Remove ISU
2. Re-engine with T700 engines from UH-60L Blackhawks for economy
3. Replace 20mm gun with M230 30mm autocannon for logistics commonality with AH-64s/GFVs, RFVs
4. Re-arm with self-guiding Javelin and LOSAT missiles
5. Armor the helicopter further to enhance survivability for high risk missions
6. Install remote flying control package
The expendable nature of RoboCobras facilitates its use in special missions otherwise not otherwise feasible with manned crewing as the only option:
The UH-1Z RoboHuey
1. Re-engine with T700 engines from UH-60L Blackhawks for economy
2. Install weapons hard-points
3. Install FRIES Improved I-Bars
4. Armor the helicopter further to enhance survivability for high risk missions
5. Install remote flying control package
Airborne Pre-positioning: RoboCobras and Hueys can be packaged and be ready to fly away in Army owned/leased cargo 747s for immediate movement to world trouble spots. Upon landing at the TSB, the RoboCopters can be flown manned or unmanned to perform missions. With a large fleet of helicopters available for this, a portion could be set aside for war response pre-positioning inside hangers and/or 747 aircraft.
Airborne deployment: It would be possible to airdrop RoboCobras to support parachute inserted forces without fear of damage and risk to aircrews because the aircraft will be flown afterwards as UCAS vehicles.
One-way SOF missions: The Son Tay Raid in 1970 highlighted the use of a helicopter as a sort of assault glider that would land and not be expected to take off again. A RoboHuey could be flown into a point target area and the pilots themselves as assault team members leave the craft and fight from them on as a ground Soldier/Commando. Once the ground assault force has seized control of the area and made it safe, other manned aircraft can come in and retrieve the SOF force.
SEAD: As the ultimate "bait", RoboCobras fly brazenly into enemy territory hoping to draw fire and pinpoint enemy air defenses, and destroy them with on board weaponry or calling back to supporting arms or manned AH-64 LongBows, RAH-66s, OH-58Ds, AH-60Ls etc. to do it from a safe stand-off using Hellfire ATGMs with milimeter wave radar.
CSAR: RoboCobra flies to downed aircrewmen, lands. Downed aircrewmen can take over controls and fly back to safety or sit inside rocket pods that have ejected their inner launch tubes to create space.
High-Risk, High-Priority targets: RoboCobras fly to a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) site and attack it without fear of exposing aircrew to dangerous toxins/radiations.
Ground UAV positioning: RoboCobras and Huey equivalents could place small ATVs with sensors into enemy territory to attack/spy on the enemy without pilot risk.
The impending retirement of the Huey and Cobra fleet provides the U.S. Army the incredible opportunity to lead the way for the rest of the services in UCAV applications, as well as keeping trained manpower in Army Green uniforms and ready to fight and win the nation's war as warriors.
Last Dingo points out that Stephen Cole writes in the June 12, 2003 Strategypage.com:
June 12, 2002; RoboChoppers Attack-
The U.S. Army has moved from cautious curiosity to aggressive expansion of its Unmanned Aerial Vehicle force. It wants unmanned helicopters that can act as sensor platforms, weapons platforms, and resupply vehicles, and preferably two or three of those roles at the same time. Some highlights of new programs.
The A-160 Hummingbird is a DARPA project to produce an unmanned helicopter that can fly 2,500 nautical miles over 40 hours and carry 300 pounds of air-to-ground missiles. The Army wants to take over the project in 2003 (years ahead of schedule) in order to ensure that the aircraft ends up being what the Army wants it to be. A production decision would be made around 2006. The A-160 has a 300hp internal combustion engine and a three-bladed rotor. The Army plans to add a tactical common data link in order to receive the aircraft's data and direct its flight and weapons.
The Army is modifying two old AH-1 Cobra helicopters into unmanned vehicles, and expects to have them flying next year. They will retain a seat for the pilot. This would allow them to be ferried to the battle area, and to have a safety officer on board when used in wargames and exercises. These will be armed with Hellfire anti-tank missiles, Stinger air-to-air missiles, and 20mm machine cannons. As there are plenty of old Cobras being retired, these could provide a source for cheap and deadly combat drones.
Vigilante is another unmanned combat helicopter. The Army plans to use it to resupply advanced forces, but also wants it to carry Stingers and serve as air-to-air combat platforms.
Another unmanned helicopter is in development for the counter-terrorism mission. This may end up being a technology demonstrator whose parts will go into other aircraft.
The 101st Airborne Division has a modified UH-60 BlackHawk helicopter which can read the data from UAVs. The Army plans to enhance this design to include the ability to control the UAVs. In some future conflict, a single manned UH-60 might control a dozen armed drones roaming over a battle area spotting, and killing, targets.
June 11, 2002; The existing U.S. Army Hunter drone was designed as an artillery spotter, but the Army now wants to give it a Javelin anti-tank missile, or the larger Hellfire, or even 70mm rockets. One armed Hunter is to be ready for demonstrations this summer. In future, Hunter might be armed with Lahat laser-guided anti-tank rounds that it could drop on a target. The Army is buying Predator-Bs and plans to use them as test beds for the new drone (to be selected in 2005) to replace Hunter. This new aircraft must be able to interface with existing ground stations; the Army doesn't plan to pay for an entirely new "system".
1st TSG (A) STAFF: What can we say? Great Minds Think Alike! =o)