An earlier view of military forces was that RPAS are appropriately used in DDD roles. That is roles which are too dull, dirty or dangerous in which to engage human pilots. Whilst this philosophy remains true, the foreseen roles for RPAS have expanded far beyond that boundary, as the following discourse is hoped to show.
Although many RPAS will be seen to offer benefit in both military and civilian applications, the two will be viewed separately. Today, more RPAS are in military use than in civil use. This is not because there are fewer applications in the latter, but rather because of the greater difficulties in their introduction to the civil market. The difficulties lie in two areas. First, since civilian uses imply the operation in open airspace, rather than on a battlefield or within military enclosures, the regulating authorities have yet to accept their general operation. Obviously means must be in place to:
- Prevent injury to persons or animals and damage to property due to failures of the RPAS; and also
- Prevent injury or damage caused by collisions between RPAS and other airborne vehicles.
Usually a RPAS will be receiving and using information from other sources which may include earth satellites, other RPAS, manned aircraft, naval vessels and ground-based systems. In its turn, it may disseminate information which it has self-acquired or received. An illustration of surveillance network using airborne systems is shown in the figure. Networks are not limited to airborne surveillance. A range of activities, air-, sea- and land-borne, covering reconnaissance, surveillance, support, defensive and attack operations, etc. may be coordinated through a network.
For the network interoperability of systems to succeed, however, robust technologies must be developed to ensure that:
- communications between systems are secure via multiple links;
- interfacing between key systems is standardised;
- interfacing with the human operators is adaptable and user-friendly;
- radio frequency bandwidth is coordinated.
A possible weakness of NCO is if one of the major systems fails, then the whole network may fail. For example, if over-reliance is placed upon the GPS, and this fails due to sunspot activity or through its being neutralised by a sophisticated adversary or even through electromagnetic pulse weapons being used, albeit on a limited scale, the whole system could descend into chaos. It is therefore argued that individual systems should have a means of ‘fall-back’, even though that may mean a reduction in effectiveness in that event.