To certain estimates, only American troops today use in Afghanistan and Iraq more that 5,000 various UAVs. Iraqi rebels and Afghan Talibs already learnt to be afraid of buzzing planes looking as toys, which are actually forerunners of lethal missiles, bombs and shells falling on their heads with high accuracy. Israel allegedly has the second largest UAV fleet worldwide. It is followed by France, Canada, Germany, UK, China, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Australia and dozen other counties including the countries of Africa and Latin America. The UAV is already an accustomed weapon in the zones of conflict, which even sometimes causes political frictions between countries (re. famous incident with a downed drone over Abkhazia).
Modern UAVs are controllable from ground command centers by specially trained “pilots” (by the way many of them were real pilots in the past) using computers. These centers may locate both inside the action area and far from it. For example, a drone buzzing over Afghanistan may be just controlled from a command center located several thousand kilometers away somewhere in California or Nevada (USA). A working days of a “pilot” of such UAV may be absolutely quite and regular: he drops his children to school in the morning, comes to his office, kills “ten terrorists before the lunch and twenty terrorists after the lunch”, returns home to dinner and watches the results of his “work” on TV at night with his family.
Small battlefield drones are launched manually in the action area and controlled via field lap-tops by soldiers or mariners, who have undergone brief training. Experts point out that the UAV control technique is similar to a computer game or aviation simulator. Meanwhile the consequences of such game may be very serious, including the death of people, destruction of residential buildings and important military and economic facilities, etc.
Leading military industrial corporations of the USA and NATO expressly claim that the UAVs are the weapon “of future wars”. A key factor here is an opportunity of global control over the situation, i.e. ability to know exactly the location of friendly forces and enemy. In this connection Western experts like to quote from British Field Marshal Sir Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo: “…The whole art of war consists of guessing at what is on the other side of the hill”. In the conditions of modern military conflicts, which are as a rule of an “asymmetric” and chaotic nature, it is vitally important to know what is “on the other side of the hill”.
In fact, the unmanned areal vehicles are mostly reconnaissance hardware platforms, which may be absolutely different in size from a toy to a modern jet fighter. Certain UAVs may stay airborne for 30 hours, fly over huge distances collecting intelligence in a real-time-format by using its onboard hardware. Other UAVs, which are small like a bird, may fly into narrow streets and gorges, jungly parkways and caves and even windows and cellars practically by stealth continuously transmitting a clear TV “picture” to the command center.
Basing on the data received from “the unblinking eye in the sky” commanders and staff officers may timely take necessary decisions, instantly transmit the UAV data to tactical units in action and target data to aircraft, artillery units and other attack systems to kill these targets. For example, a regular mate of the UAV in Iraq and Afghanistan is helicopter gunship Apache or fighter-bomber F-16.
According to Scott Harris, President-Continental Europe, Lockheed Martin, a key advantage of the UAV is that the collected data may be easily integrated “into anything” , starting from space surveillance data to battlefield situation reports (sitreps), to create a broad picture of the event. The Lockheed Martin President believes that the UAVs become more and more technologically sophisticated and attractive to a potential customer. Today, actually all leading arms manufacturers are involved in their development; and militaries are ready to accept them and demand more and more drones from the industry.
For example, today American military corporations already implement a variety of UAV projects. In so doing, most of them are secret as quoted to Scott Harris. In the opinion of independent experts, it is caused by the fact new UAV today are often used not only as reconnaissance hardware platforms but as carries of rather powerful arms. “The first robin” was American UAV Predator manufactured in early 00s and armed with two specially modified antitank guided missiles Hellfire.
Attack UAVs opened their combat record in 2003 when US CIA-owned Predator killed a truck with five Al Qaeda chieftains in Yemen. Recently a fleet of Predators has been enlarged by more powerful UAVs Ripper capable of carrying already four Hellfires and two 227-kg aerial bombs. These two types of armed droned operated by the CIA and US Air Force are actively used to kill “priority targets”, first of all terror team leaders. However, there were times when even “smart flying robots” did tragic mistakes when instead of combatants and terrorists they killed peaceful people. A correspondent of the Newsweek daily in Iraq recently witnessed such tragic mistake when a UAV mounted a strike on Baghdad’s Sadr City killing many peaceful women and children.
The Pentagons plans to build more advanced UAVs almost similar to fantastic robots of Hollywood’s “techno thrillers”. The US press published articles that the Department of Defense has awarded a 635-billion Dollar contract to Northrop-Grumman for development of a prototype unmanned flying bomber. This new UAV coded X-47B is similar to deck-based fighter F-14 in size (takeoff mass – 19 tons) and may be launched from aircraft carriers. Boeing also develops its own unmanned flying bomber X-45. The concept of both UAVs implies both individual operations and operations in group including together with manned aircrafts.
Taking into account the current trends in UAV development, Russia lately pays special attention to design and construction of its own drones. Russian military enterprises implement and develop the UAV projects launched in the time of the USSR for the Russian armed forces and for export. For example, today the UAVs are offered by Yakovlev Design Bureau (Pchela-1T), MiG Corporation (Attack UAV Skat), Tupolev Design Bureau (Tu-300 Korshun), Kamov Design Bureau (unmanned helicopters Ka-37 and Ka-137), Rybinsk “Design Bureau Luch” (aerial reconnaissance system Tipchak with UAV-05, UAV-07 and UAV-08), Izhevsk Company “Unmanned Systems” (super light UAV ZALA 412-08), etc.
Colonel General Alexander Zelenin, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Air Force, recently said to journalists that modern UAV of various types inclusive of attack ones, will enter the Russian AF inventory by 2011. He also emphasized that currently “UAV development is a priority task in the Russian Federation”. To this end, the Russian Armed Forces have prepared a UAV development programme that specifies the designation and role of the UAVs as well as the phases of their development.
According to General Zelenin, today the field units only start receiving the UAVs designed 10-12 years ago. Currently various UAVs are under development – of aircraft and helicopter types, of various launch modes, of close and long range, as well as capable of fulfilling tasks at a distance of 300-400 km and staying airborne up to 10-12 hours. Their development is based on up-to-date domestic digital technologies and unique technological solutions.
The success of the UAVs and fantastic prospects of their use in the military art however do not mean that the “century of supermachines”, which will practically completely replace the human in the battlefield or would decide to conquer our planet as in Hollywood “blockbusters”, is already our foreseeable future. Or at least it may happen in very far future, according to scientists. But the fact that the process of human extermination by using the UAVs becomes remotely-controlled, robot-aided and almost cartoon-like, is however rather frightening.