Air Force UAVs: The Secret History
MITCHELL INST FOR AIRPOWER STUDIES ARLINGTON VA
Pagination or Media Count:
This paper explores Air Force UAV systems using a comparative analytical framework. Systems are presented chronologically and the analysis focuses on external and internal variables contributing to weapon system innovation. As with the other services, independent externalities such as aviation technology, the military threat, and politics provide the context for Air Force UAV decision-making. The UAV programs described in this paper reveal how the Air Forces functional requirements, decision making structure, and undiluted aviation culture affected UAV development. It chronicles the evolution and development of combat-support UAVs from the early 1960s when the Air Force operated drones developed by the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO, to 1994 when all of the services lost UAV acquisition autonomy with the formation of the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office, or DARO up to the year 2000. As will be seen, the Air Force not only pursued its own systems relating to conventional combat operations but also had intimate involvement with the intelligence community UAVs, also profiled here. In these early decades, the Air Force record of adoption paralleled that of the other services-only one UAV system achieved operational status. The similarities end there, however. The fast, long-range, high-flying UAVs pursued by the Air Force resulted in different reactions to contextual elements. Technologically, the lack of a cheap, reliable method for achieving location accuracy exerted a powerful brake on adoption despite the ground-breaking invention of the microprocessor. Perhaps even more compelling was the fact that satellites, manned aviation, and standoff missiles presented much more formidable competition to Air Force UAVs than they did to the UAVs of other services.
- Pilotless Aircraft
- Humanities and History