A strategic concept of operations (CONOPS) for unmanned air vehicle use by NATO is to be planned using lessons learned from the alliance members' Afghanistan experience.
The strategic-level CONOPS will be developed by the Joint Air Power Competence Centre. Based in Germany, the centre is not formally part of NATO's structure, but has 17 of the alliance's 28 states as members, including the UK and the USA, and acts as a think tank. The CONOPS will enable NATO to address its needs for a co-ordinated deployment of unmanned aircraft systems.
Speaking at the AUVSI Unmanned Systems Europe 2009 conference at the NATO Undersea Research Centre in La Spezia, Italy, the competence centre's assistant director capabilities Royal Netherlands Air Force Air Cdre Jan van Hoof told Flight International: "In Afghanistan we have not made the most of our [NATO assets]. We have to think about how do we operate these [UAV] systems in these complex environments."
The CONOPS work is expected to start after a May review of a study already carried out on a NATO concept of employment for unmanned air systems.
Van Hoof also expressed frustration at the current need for six weeks of planning before a UAV flight can be performed across western European airspace, compared to the normal operations of manned aircraft.
Asked about nations' options to invest in manned or unmanned aircraft, Van Hoof says for countries like the Netherlands the choice is not between the two, but on which would actually be operated.