Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thought Drones Were New to the Skies? Think Again

A 1990 report prepared by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), an organization based in the US, stated that the military use of unmanned, remotely controlled air vehicles began no later than World War I. The report was presented to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and explained that remote controlled aircraft were operational during the 1920's in both the US and the UK.

The craft were initially rather limited in scope, the IDA reported, but by World War II radio-controlled aircraft were being upgraded to include cameras. Such efforts continued through the Korean War.

The Nite Gazelle, deployed during the Vietnam era.
A similar 2003 IDA report provided an overview of DARPA unclassified program activities since the 1970's. Unmanned aerial vehicles were given significant attention, including the wide use of remotely piloted vehicles, or RPVs, during the Vietnam War. RPVs successfully carried payloads, conducted reconnaissance, executed precision strikes and other advantageous maneuvers over SE Asia.

In 1971 an apparently rather brilliant model airplane enthusiast, Dr. John Foster, recommended DARPA scrap its designs and turn its attention to producing, more or less, souped up model planes. The cleverly simple concept initially resulted in the Praerie and Calere, each weighing about 75 pounds and powered by, of all things, lawn mower engines. Numerous additional models were subsequently produced. Their increasingly sophisticated capacities included reduced radar signatures and the addition of electronic warfare capabilities.

All was not always as stellar as the Department of Defense would have liked, however. IDA reported that the DARPA-Army collaboration on Praerie led to the Army's Aquila Program, a venture infamous for its lack of practicality.

The project succeeded in its objective to demonstrate an RPV could perform reconnaissance, acquire and identify targets, and survive. However, it dramatically overextended its original budget by the time it was axed in 1988. What's more, it was considered an acquisition nightmare, and, as IDA put it, “universally acknowledged as an example of what not to do in an advanced technology acquisition program.”

The effective but ill fated Aquila
Essentially, confusion developed within the ranks as to how Aquila should be deployed. IDA reported that a lack of cooperation between the branches ultimately undermined the program. Many believe it is such challenges that led to agencies such as DARPA and the CIA taking the lead in drone advancements, as opposed to allocating such operations to the services.

Production efforts of unmanned aerial vehicles continued, leading to projects such as Amber. The 1990's saw transitions from Amber into programs known as Tier I, Tier II and Tier III, representing production of drones with systematically increased capacities for stealthy flight, electronic warfare and lethal weaponry.

Drones were used in Iraq, Afghanistan and are of course deployed in current intelligence operations. They are also becoming more widely used in a variety of law enforcement and rescue operations.

The Associated Press recently reported that the Pentagon is creating a new prestigious medal for extraordinary achievement in cyber and drone warfare. It is the first addition of a medal since 1944. Many analysts suggest it exhibits an urgency allocated to high levels of performance and success in the field.

Whatever we may make of the ongoing saga of unmanned aerial vehicles, they are obviously here to stay. We can only speculate what related information may remain classified and to what extents it has effected ufology, but it might be advisable to take into consideration now and then.

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