Washington DC, December 13, 2005 - Despite the
impressive success achieved by unmanned aerial systems (UAS) during
recent conflicts in the Middle East, particularly in identifying
time-critical targets and striking them by manned and unmanned aerial
platforms, UAS support for joint forces operations is limited due to
interoperability issues, bandwidth availability, equipment
availability and bad-weather operability.
According a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report released today
(December 13, 2005), Interoperability between systems and between
different services is one of the biggest issues. While Department Of
Defense (DOD) guidance requires interoperability, detailed standards
for such interoperability have not been developed; relying on general
standards, the services developed differing systems which had to use
technical patches to permit interconnection at a much slower data
flow, potentially hampering time-critical targeting.
Another issue is the interchangeability of sensors and platforms.
Again, lack of payload commonality standard causes availability issues
and delay, if compatible unmanned aircraft and payloads are not
available. Since US forces develop, procure and operate UAS as service
specific programs, they are insufficiently attentive to joint needs.
Lack of electromagnetic spectrum is another limitation – UAS require
extensive bandwidth resources for control uplink and imagery downlink.
Lack of standards causes excessive redundancy in the use of bandwidth
resources. While the latest systems are adapting common datalink
systems, other systems cannot change to avoid congestion and
consequently some missions have been delayed, potentially undermining
Weather is a critical factor for UAS operations. Unmanned aircraft are
more likely to be grounded in inclement weather than manned aircraft,
yet, despite being an essential element in time-critical systems,
all-weather capabilities were not specified with most systems.
Thus, while continuing to invest in UAS, DOD has incomplete
performance information on joint operations on which to base
acquisition or modification decisions. Only in May 2005, the U.S.
Strategic Command began developing joint performance measures. GAO
concludes: "Until DOD adopts and enforces interoperability and other
standards, these challenges will likely remain and become more
widespread as new UAS are developed and fielded."