Unmanned Aerial Vehicle End-to-End Support Considerations

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle End-to-End Support Considerations

by John G. Drew, Russell Shaver, Kristin F. Lynch

Evaluating current end to end support postures for certain UAV systems revealed that fielding a new capability quickly can have cibsequences for its long term support and for testing and evaluation, training, and plans for future enhancements.


Evaluating current end to end support postures for certain UAV systems revealed that fielding a new capability quickly can have cibsequences for its long term support and for testing and evaluation, training, and plans for future enhancements.

Product Details

Rand Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.90(w) x 8.94(h) x 0.36(d)

Read an Excerpt

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle End-to-End Support Considerations

By John G. Drew Russell Shaver Kristin F. Lynch Mahyar A. Amouzer Don Snyder

Rand Corporation

Copyright © 2005 RAND Corporation
All right reserved.

Chapter One


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been used in combat operations since the mid-1900s. More recently, both Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom employed UAVs for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and for time-critical targeting.

This report provides the background and results of a review of support options for Air Force UAVs and, to the extent possible, the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV). It does not address operational issues, such as potential employment options, unless they are specifically related to support requirements. Our objective was to review systems that the Air Force currently owns or is acquiring, not to critique its acquisition decisions. We reviewed the acquisition process only to identify ways to aid future acquisitions.

Study Motivation

The Air Force originally acquired its Predator UAV as an advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD) and has employed it in recent operations. Before this acquisition, the Air Force had had very little experience with ACTDs. While an ACTD makes it possible for an operational capability to reach a combatant commander quickly, it raises concerns about the mid- to long-term effects of not completing the traditional logistics processes: a logistics supportability analysis(LSA) and/or a source of repair assignment process (SORAP).

Both LSAs and SORAPs are accepted Air Force processes to determine logistics requirements. Having little experience with the ACTD process, the Air Force had concerns that this new and rapid acquisition process and the typical processes for determining logistics requirements did not mesh fully. Because of the rapid acquisition and accelerated production schedules for the current unmanned systems, there was not enough time to complete these processes-or the data with which to do so. This meant that the Air Force had to rely heavily on contractors to support these new systems in the early stages of these programs. It has also raised serious questions about how and whether the responsibility for support should transition to the Air Force. ACTDs have been used for acquisition a number of times over the last decade. A method for bridging the gap between rapid acquisition and traditional processes for determining logistics requirements needs to be established.

Although the Air Force has had great success in employing Predator, a structured requirement-review process would have been helpful. The budget did not include funding for reviewing requirements. In an effort to address system issues, the Air Force offered to delay purchasing some future air vehicles to allow using their funding to purchase maintainability and supportability enhancements. Despite agreeing on the need for these enhancements, Congress directed the Air Force to make the acquisitions as planned. Therefore, no money was available for a formal review of system support requirements.

In addition to the Predator, numerous other UAVs are currently being acquired. Some are extensions of classified programs for which the overall cost of support is not a primary consideration or of programs for which the vehicle's life expectancy is short, thus requiring little support. Others are new programs aimed at providing new capabilities. The U.S. Army, Navy, and other branches of government, as well as foreign interests, all have UAVs in their air fleet inventories, and these force structures are expanding.

Recent successful operational deployments of UAVs, the increased capabilities they provide, and the rapid acquisition used for them were the primary motivations for this study. This report will address these and other concerns that arose during our review of the current UAV support posture.

Analytic Approach

This report presents the results of an analysis of end-to-end support options for UAVs. We concentrated on current support postures and evaluated possible improvements that might apply to future systems.

The first step was to gather and review combat-support postures for various current UAV systems. We therefore gathered information on Global Hawk, Predator, Pointer, Raven, the Force Protection Airfield Surveillance System (FPASS), the Battlefield Air Targeting Camera Autonomous Micro (BATCAM) air vehicle, and UCAV. We also gathered information on future UAVs. Information was obtained by visiting operating agencies, test and evaluation facilities, depots, and manufacturing facilities. We met with functional representatives at the major commands and in the system program offices (SPOs) at Air Force Materiel Command. Predator information came from Indian Springs Air Force Station, Nevada; the Air Combat Command's (ACC's) Big Safari SPO; the 645th Materiel Squadron, Detachment 3; and General Atomics. Global Hawk information came from ACC; the Aeronautical Systems Center's (ASC's) UAV Program Office for Global Hawk (ASC/RGL); and 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California. The Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) provided information on Pointer and Raven. Electronic Systems Command provided the data on FPASS. We also gained insights into future UAV operations by reviewing the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board reports and the work of our RAND colleagues, through conversations with the UAV Battlelab, and by attending the annual conference of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

The team gained further insights on UAV operations and potential future operations from the Department of Defense's (DoD's) UAV Roadmap, the Air Force Transformation Flight Plan, the Air Force Posture 2004, several reports from what is now the Government Accountability Office and from the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board on UAVs and on command and control, and the ACC concepts of operation (CONOPs) for both Predator and Global Hawk. From employment and peacetime CONOPs, we gleaned vehicle instructions, mission performance data, and training and exercise requirements. Finally, we reviewed data on lessons learned during deployments and peacetime training and test operations.

The team looked for commonality among vehicles, support equipment, and requirements, as well as in the lessons learned or the issues individual programs faced that could help us define recommendations for shaping future support decisions. These reviews of ACTD issues and rapid acquisition processes have enabled us to suggest improvements in support for both the current and future systems (Thirtle, 1997; Drezner and Leonard, 2002c).

RAND then developed a methodology for evaluating options for improving end-to-end combat support for UAVs. This methodology, which may be applied to both current and future systems, can be used to illustrate how logistics issues can affect operational capability. In this report, we apply the methodology to illustrate ways to improve UAV global support concepts to improve deployment and employment of current and future systems.

Finally, the team reviewed and evaluated costs for providing end-to-end combat support for UAV systems. In our analysis, we compared contractor support to organic support. We also highlighted other support issues that may affect future UAV systems, such as test and evaluation funding and spiral development processes.

Organization of This Report

Chapter Two examines the features of several UAVs in detail. Chapter Three presents logistical concerns that arise when using rapid acquisition. Chapter Four details the methodology behind the Logistics Implications Capabilities Assessment Model (LICAM). Chapter Five details other support issues found during the study. Following the Conclusions, Chapter Six, we provide four appendices, which provide supplementary information on the various U.S. UAV programs and can serve as a resource for UAV programs. The first three appendices are primers on Global Hawk, Predator, and small UAVs. Appendix D provides a comparison of many UAVs.

Chapter Two

Current UAVs

UAV programs have been around since the end of World War II. But their military utility was generally considered small during the Cold War. By the early 1980s, this had started to change. The advent of enhanced satellite communications, miniaturized electronics, and sophisticated sensors (including relatively lightweight, highly capable synthetic-aperture radars [SARs]) fostered renewed interest in the potential capabilities of UAVs. The newly founded UAV Joint Program Office (JPO) produced the first UAV master plan in the mid-1980s. After various fits and starts, the JPO produced a plan in the early 1990s for a multitiered UAV concept.

The study team took a systems view of UAVs, dividing them into two broad classes by size: large and small. While vehicles could be classified according to their size, the defining measure is usually how the vehicle is controlled. Large UAVs typically have launch and recovery capabilities that can be separated from their control and data-exploitation capabilities; the latter are often operated using satellite links and reachback data exploitation. Small UAVs are typically launched, flown, controlled, and recovered and their data exploited by one individual, all within line of sight (LOS) of the vehicle.

This chapter provides an overview and comparison of the UAVs we reviewed for this report: Global Hawk, Predator, UCAV, Pointer, Raven, FPASS, and BATCAM. While it is not exhaustive, this chapter does provide insights into size, capability, capacity, sensor capability, and cost of some of the current and projected UAV systems. Appendixes A through C describe these systems in more detail.

Large UAVs

Large UAVs can typically be launched and recovered via LOS communications. The flight over the target area, as well as data and/or imagery the UAV records, can be sent to a separate location via satellite communications.

Global Hawk

Global Hawk is the offspring of an earlier Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) effort to develop a high-altitude, long-endurance (HAE) UAV; it is considered a Tier II+ HAE UAV. The original HAE UAV program was part of a new acquisition experiment aimed at getting important military capabilities into the field quickly. Because Global Hawk is large and capable of long-endurance flights at high altitude, it is an excellent platform for collecting sensitive intelligence information from most parts of the world (see Figure 2.1).

There are currently two different versions of the Global Hawk vehicle-the RQ-4A and the RQ-4B. The following description is of the RQ-4B, the most current version of the vehicle at the time of this publication.

The Global Hawk RQ-4B vehicle has a 131-ft wingspan and a maximum weight of approximately 32,250 lbs. It was designed to have an endurance of at least 20 hours at a 1,200-nmi flyout distance, an operational altitude above 60,000 ft, and a maximum payload capacity of 3,000 lbs. The true airspeed of the RQ-4B is approximately 310 kts (Nunn, 2003).

This UAV's primary mission is ISR, and its current mission package consists of a set of optical sensors-electro-optical (EO) and infrared (IR)-and a SAR. Future plans call for an enhanced payload that will provide such additional capabilities as a signals intelligence (SIGINT) sensor and an enhanced radar system that includes a ground moving target indicator (GMTI). These capabilities will be added through the Air Force's Multiplatform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP), during spiral development.

The Air Force currently plans to purchase 51 Global Hawks. The latest model, an RQ-4B, with no sensors, costs $32 million apiece, which includes recurring hardware, systems engineering and program management, tooling costs, as well as nonrecurring tooling costs. Purchasing a Global Hawk with a full sensor suite would cost $54 million. In addition, each ground station costs $16 million.

The high altitude and the long operational radius allow great survivability and operational flexibility. In addition, the larger vehicle could accommodate additional avionics and/or devices.


The UAV JPO's plan from the early 1990s called for a multitiered UAV concept. One of these, Tier II, was known as the MAE UAV. In 1993, at the end of the planning phase, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, John Deutch, specifically criticized the MAE's planned design, stating a requirement for greater endurance capabilities. The "Deutch memo" stated the new requirements to be the capability to fly 500 nmi from an operating airfield to a target area, remain on station for at least 24 hours, have a payload capacity of 400 to 500 lbs, and fly at an altitude between 15,000 and 25,000 ft (Deutch, 1993). Because survivability at these altitudes was thought to be questionable (the UAV was not to be stealthy), the unit cost had to be low enough that the vehicle could be viewed as expendable. The unit cost cap was set at $5 million. A new UAV design resulted: the Predator.

Predator, considered a large UAV, was designed to be an inexpensive (and thus expendable) air vehicle that could loiter for up to 24 hours over a target area and relay back relatively high-resolution pictures of specific target areas on the ground. There are two versions of Predator today, Predator A and Predator B.

Predator A, originally designated RQ-1, was designed to provide persistent ISR coverage of a specified target area (see Figure 2.2). With a wingspan of 48.7 ft and weighing approximately 2,250 lbs, Predator A has a 24-hour endurance with a flyout distance of only 500 nmi. It has an approximate ceiling of 25,000 ft and can carry approximately 450 lbs internally and 200 lbs externally. Its maximum airspeed is 120 kts, but it loiters at approximately 70 kts (Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2002; U.S. Air Force, 2001; and Federation of American Scientists, 2002).

As an ISR platform, Predator A carries either an EO/IR sensor package or a SAR. The sensors are interchangeable and not as sophisticated as those on Global Hawk. Predator A (RQ-1) migrated into MQ-1 with the addition of a weapon-carrying capability. The vehicle can simultaneously carry EO/IR sensors and two Hellfire missiles.

At the time of this study, the Air Force planned to acquire 15 Predator A systems and some attrition reserve. Eight systems would be coded for combat, two for training, and one for test. Each vehicle costs approximately $4 million, significantly less than for Global Hawk.

Predator's design is not static. An entirely new Predator has been designed and built (see Figure 2.3). Predator B (MQ-9) is substantially larger, with a wingspan of 64 ft and weighing approximately 10,000 lbs. The published endurance is still 24 hours, but the flyout distance has increased to 1,000 nmi. At 45,000 ft, Predator B's ceiling is significantly higher than that of Predator A, which makes Predator B more survivable in some threat conditions. Predator B has an internal payload capacity of 750 lbs and an external capacity of approximately 3,000 lbs. Its maximum airspeed is 220 kts, almost twice that of Predator A (Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2002).

Predator B's primary mission is time-sensitive targeting, which involves continuously monitoring suspected target areas and attacking targets promptly when they do emerge. Its laser designator and laser tracker allow the Predator B to attack high-value, newly emerging targets found by its ISR sensors rapidly. This Predator has an improved sensor suite, which, like Predator A's, is interchangeable. The vehicle can carry both EO/IR sensors and a SAR and as many as four 500-lb precision-guided munitions.

As of the time of this writing, the Air Force had bought 89 Predator As and plans to acquire a total of more than 100. The Air Force currently owns nine combat-ready Predator Bs, plus two for training, and one for test and evaluation and plans to acquire a total of 60. Each vehicle costs approximately $10 million, which is cheaper than Global Hawk but more expensive Predator A. See Table 2.1 for a comparison of Predator A and Predator B. Newer versions of both Predator systems are continuously being tested and that may further expand the air vehicle's capabilities.


Excerpted from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle End-to-End Support Considerations by John G. Drew Russell Shaver Kristin F. Lynch Mahyar A. Amouzer Don Snyder Copyright © 2005 by RAND Corporation. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >