Will Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Replace Traditionally Manned Aircraft?

UAVs came. They won hearts. Skeptics held on to their views. It took time for people to register that aircraft can fly without a man.

The debate between the efficiency of traditionally manned and unmanned aircraft has been brewing ever since unmanned vehicles saw the light of the day, but with technology making rapid strides, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that unmanned aerial vehicles have begun to show a lot of promise. We are not talking about drones for filming movies or for entertainment here. The scenario is a lot bigger, with concerns of national importance.

Air Marshal Vinod Patney, former Vice Chief of Air Staff, IAF recently recognized the abilities of unmanned aircraft and their contribution to reconnaissance and battlefield image capturing. While he highlighted that human cognition still remains unparalleled, there is no denying that unmanned vehicles have proved immensely useful over the last few years, particularly in defense and agriculture.

The U.S. had clearly envisaged a great future for drones in as early as 2010, when the Pentagon, for the first time, invested more in unmanned aircrafts than manned. The country is touted as the leader in drone development today. As of 2018, the U.S. military owns a total of 86 drones, and it is consistently pioneering in designs to ensure they make the most out of UAVs on the battlefield. The future looks good for UAVs.

It is not only the U.S. that has realized the importance of drones in the military. Their success around the world can be attributed to the fact, the U.S. military recently pumped an additional $13 million into engineering and testing a counter-UAV system. This speaks volumes about how the governments across the world are increasing the role of UAVs in military combats and surveillance.

India, too, has vested interests in armed drones. The country’s first armed drone Heron TP, now ready in Israel, is fully capable of monitoring and detecting threats and can successfully take out targets from air to ground.

Of course, nothing beats the tactical abilities of a human mind, but UAVs are consistently beginning to outnumber the advantages that manned aircraft have to offer.

  1. Not All Unmanned Systems are off human control – UAVs can be autonomous or remotely piloted. So it would be wrong to say that they do not guarantee the discernment of the human mind. To elaborate, an unmanned aerial system has the following components: UAV, a controller, and a communication system that relays commands to the vehicle. In cases where decisive thinking is needed, humans very much decide the actions and the outcome.
  2. Minimal Threat to Human Life – Probably the biggest advantage that unmanned aerial vehicles have to offer is that human lives are not put at stake. Compared to manned vehicles that come with the potential cost of a soldier’s life, unmanned aerial vehicles allow much more freedom of action and can deal more last-minute damage. This is particularly useful when gathering information or monitoring enemy movement in high-risk areas and scenarios. Armies can greatly reduce damage by limiting human casualty during reconnaissance and putting the expertise of soldiers to use only when it is needed the most.
  3. Low Risk to Data of National Security – Since UAVs are either autonomous or are operated remotely, they completely eliminate the possibility of a soldier getting captured by the enemy and interrogated by rough means. The machine, by its own, has very little information to divulge.

Other Advantages of Unmanned Aerial Systems

Aerial View As Tractor Collects Wheat From Combine Harvester

With the pilot out of the equation, operating costs decrease and the vehicles can operate tirelessly in emergency situations such as flood rescue operations to survey the damage and locate victims.   

Drones are particularly helpful in industrial inspection and infrastructure maintenance. It requires small to very small aerial vehicles to steer through small areas in industrial plants and enhanced stability at low speeds to inspect bridges and buildings thoroughly. This is something that drones do effectively.

Unmanned aerial vehicles are also used as agricultural drones. They can easily cover a large expanse of field and offer farmers a birds-eye-view of their crops, revealing problem areas and allowing them to address critical issues quickly.

Even though one of the arguments against unmanned aerial vehicles is the lack of on-spot decision making, UAVs are here to stay. With the right mix of unmanned and manned aerial vehicles operating together in the crew to achieve a common objective, UAVs will prove an asset that will greatly reduce operating costs and the delays caused due to dependency on manual interventions.

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