Monday, January 05, 2009

Mortars With Wings

The Army is building an Army Air Force that uses unmanned aerial vehicles for strike, recon, and communications missions. These UAVs supplement Army helicopters and some fixed wing assets.

Decades of Air Force neglect to these areas in favor of investing in systems more suited to their own view of what air power should do, finally led to this development as technology provided the means to bypass the Air Force. Not that the Air Force hasn't done a good job to adapting during the war, but the Army can be excused for believing this purple attitude won't survive the end of the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army has come up with a way to match company-level firepower with small battalion-level UAVs:

In 2007, US Army RQ-7 Shadow battalion-level UAVs saw their use increase to up 8,000 flight hours per month in Iraq, a total that compares well to the famous MQ-1 Predator....

The difference between the Army’s RQ-7 Shadow UAVs and their brethren like the USAF’s MQ-1A Predator, or the Army’s new MQ-1C Sky Warriors, is that the Shadow has been too small and light to be armed....

With NAVAIR’s mini-missile still in development, and missions in Afghanistan occurring beyond artillery support range, arming the Army’s Shadow UAVs has become an even more important objective. So important, in fact, that it spawned a bright idea: what if smaller UAVs could carry and drop the Army’s 81mm mortar ammunition, which weighs just 9-10 pounds? ...

General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems announces that it has successfully demonstrated the ability to maneuver and guide 81mm air-dropped mortars to a stationary ground target after release from an aircraft.

We are already working on precision mortars carried around by the infantry. Precision mortar shells dropped from the air give our infantry greater range.

Developments like this show why it is foolish for the Air Force to fight for shrinking market share.

The Air Force needs to focus on what their assets can uniquely provide to our defense efforts and aim high, as their slogan famously puts it.