The transformation of UAV under the strategic competition of great powers (Part 2)

category:Military
 The transformation of UAV under the strategic competition of great powers (Part 2)


As unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is used more and more frequently in the battlefield, as the other side of confrontation, anti UAV technology has been paid more and more attention. It must be pointed out that compared with the UAV, UAV not only has no special battlefield survival advantages, but also has many insurmountable disadvantages. We have seen the modern anti UAV capability represented by Russia in the previous article.

UAV is not really unmanned. The current UAV is nothing more than transferring the cockpit to the ground. The ground operator sends operation instructions to the UAV remotely through the data link, and then performs the task combined with the imperfect airborne artificial intelligence system. In other words, if the operation command or interference from the ground is cut off to decoy the autonomous navigation signal or program, the UAV is likely to become a stupid goose at the mercy of others. For example, in the classic case of Irans capture of sentry in 2011, Russias garage electronic countermeasure system is likely to play a major role.

Flying wing configuration has become the common aerodynamic layout of stealth UAV.

In addition, due to the limited volume, various high sensitivity photoelectric sensors are compact and concentrated, and it is difficult to achieve good electromagnetic shielding, which leads to its poor tolerance to directional energy weapons or electromagnetic attacks. If you attack with laser weapons, you dont need a lot of energy to disable the UAV. Moreover, the small and medium-sized laser gun has a rapid combat response and can realize instant shooting down. If deployed on the vehicle platform, it is very suitable for intercepting the saturation attack of UAV formation. Of course, other air defense firepower that can be used to destroy the UAV can also constitute hard damage to UAV. In Syria, the Russian army has widely used armor S1 and other short-range air defense systems to attack UAVs in base air defense operations.

On the other hand, the high-tech integration of large UAVs is gradually offsetting its price advantage over manned fighters. The unit price of sentry and Mermaid and Poseidon successfully intercepted by Iran exceeds 100 million US dollars. If such an expensive aircraft is vulnerable to a country like Iran which does not have strong air defense capability, then it is very questionable to invest a huge amount of money to develop and equip this UAV. We have seen that the U.S. Air Force plans to let the F-22 undertake certain campaign investigation tasks, and has abandoned the original plan to replace the u-2s manned aircraft with rq-4b Global Hawk UAV. The latter has just appeared in the air over the no fly zone of live ammunition exercises in the northern theater of the Chinese peoples Liberation Army. This is a classic strategic reconnaissance aircraft born in the 1950s, and it will continue to serve at least 2 At the same time, the U.S. Army recently even frequently used the modified Bombardier commercial aircraft (Challenger 650) of Canada to carry out the approach investigation missions against China, Russia and other countries.

Transformation challenges

However, the biggest crisis facing UAVs today is not the progress of countermeasures or the soaring procurement costs. They are equally obvious on manned aircraft, and the change of battlefield demand is the most critical issue.

Although the types of global armed conflicts in recent years are still low-level or asymmetric, with the accelerated transformation of the world geo strategic situation and the trend of competition among big powers, the symmetrical military competition among big powers is becoming more and more intense. At least one of the reasons why the United States, whether it wants to win a serious conflict or not, has to be prepared for the security of the country or for China to win.

In this military demand which is very different from that in the past 30 years, the existing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are mainly produced in asymmetric conflict environment, may not be perfectly applicable. UAV must become more intelligent and have independent combat capability comparable to manned main combat aircraft, so as to make the performance potential advantages brought by zero casualties and no life support system become meaningful. Obviously, it is impossible to achieve this goal overnight. It can be predicted that the development roadmap of key UAVs in the future can be roughly divided into two levels: at the task level, it will carry out low-level tasks independently at present, such as target aircraft, gun firing correction, investigation, observation and combat integration, etc.; to carrying out higher-level tasks with the partner of UAVs, such as face-to-face attack under the leadership of a small number of UAVs, and air supremacy competition, etc.; and then to independently carry out higher-level tasks Level task. At the functional level, it is from the opposite attack UAV to the intercepting UAV which can undertake the BVR air combat, and then to the all-around UAV that can perform close range combat tasks.

We can see the relevant exploration and practice of the above road map from the pre research projects announced by various military powers. At the mission level, the most realistic goal of combat UAVs, especially UAVs, is not independent air combat, but to carry out high-level tasks in partnership with manned aircraft. In March 2019, the first unmanned wingman verification aircraft xq-58a nvwushen of the US loyal wingman project successfully flew for the first time. This type of aircraft will be mainly used to fight with F-35 manned fighters, and one lightning 2 can command several nvwushen to carry out tasks. According to the U.S. Air Force laboratory, the xq-58a can provide reconnaissance and early warning information for the F-35 from thousands of kilometers away (its range is 5500 kilometers, more than twice the f-35a), and can carry long-range missiles to attack air and ground targets.

The xq-58a UAV developed by the United States can be used as a loyal wingman of manned fighters to conduct cooperative operations.

Coincidentally, on December 13, 2017, the national interest bimonthly of the United States published an article entitled Russias killer for F-22 and F-35 , pointing out that the next generation of Russian air combat system is likely to be composed of two manned fighters and 20 to 30 unmanned fighters. The above conjecture was soon proved to be not groundless. In August 2019, we saw the picture of the Russian Air Forces Hunter B UAV flying in formation with the su-57 manned fighter plane, which was immediately interpreted by the outside world as Russia is exploring the use of manned fighter planes and unmanned combat aircraft.

At the end of August 2020, at the 6th International Military Technology Forum held simultaneously in many places in Russia and in Armenia, Russias Kronstadt company also publicly displayed a loyal wingman named grom. The developer said that the aircraft could perform intelligence collection, ground attack and electronic warfare tasks, and would be used in partnership with Su-35 and su-57.

Dawn of unmanned air combat

At the functional level, the United States x-47c, Russian Hunter B, French neuron, British Thor and sword stealth UAVs from China have all made their first flight. These models, no matter as technology verification aircraft or models that may purchase equipment, indicate that the dedicated face-to-face attack UAVs (UAVs or unmanned tactical bombers) are not far away from actual combat Yes.

In different air combat environments, the degree of manual intervention is very different. Relatively speaking, over the horizon air combat is more likely to take the lead in unmanned air combat. Due to the long distance between the enemy and the US, leaving more sufficient reaction time, in theory, the pilot only needs to solve the problem of target recognition, and the attack operation can be completely handed over to the airborne computer, and there is no major technical obstacle to accurate automatic target recognition. Therefore, it is expected to achieve unmanned breakthrough in the next 10 years with the support of airborne computer and air ground data link for the fighter which mainly performs interception mission.

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