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High-Altitude, Long-Endurance UAVs vs. Satellites: Potential Benefits for U.S. Army Applications

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Master's thesis

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Satellites have become a critical component of nearly every aspect of modern life. In addition to well-known civilian applications, military applications of space-based platforms include supporting mission operations through communications intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance ISR and position, navigation and timing PNT. While satellite applications are numerous and increasing technical achievements make satellites more capable, they do have several drawbacks. Satellites are expensive, they require long development times and they are difficult to replace. Since the successful Chinese anti-satellite ASAT missile test on January 11, 2006, U.S. military leaders have become increasingly concerned over this new vulnerability to critical space assets. In addition to efforts designed to improve operationally responsive space capabilities, military leaders have begun researching alternatives to space-based platforms. In November, 2006, the U.S. Army released the Army Space Master Plan ASMP. In the unclassified extract of that plan, the Army identifies a list of eight topics for further investigation including the question, Where should the Army invest in near-space and high-altitude, longendurance HALE platforms as a lower cost, more responsive alternative to space platforms if they prove technically feasible This thesis discusses technical challenges associated with making HALE platforms feasible and explores the potential benefits of using these platforms to augment or enhance the three primary military applications of communications, ISR and PNT including a detailed examination of current satellite-based military payload capabilities and limitations. Finally, this thesis discusses potential methods to integrate HALE capabilities into the current U.S. Army Space Operations doctrine and provides some suggestions for the potential role of Arm

Subject Categories:

  • Military Intelligence
  • Navigation and Guidance
  • Astronautics

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