Army concept papers advise increased use of unmanned combat air vehicles as funding pressures limit manned air assets

Newly released concept papers for the Australian Army future force planning predict continuing shortages in manned air assets during the first quarter of the century because of funding pressures.

The papers also warn that air defence systems in the Asia-Pacific are likely to improve significantly, requiring the Australian Army to consider adopting unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) for roles such as air escort for land forces and suppression of enemy air defences.

The WinNow papers forecast that Australian Army aviation forces of 2025 are likely to be increasingly launched from ships. The papers also suggest that air mobility requirements could lead to the development of aircraft with an integrated land fighting vehicle.

They claim that "a potential high payoff research area will be the development of combat vehicles light enough to be carried by an air platform and yet survivable against the full variety of threats likely to be encountered on future battlefields".

The papers reveal the army's interest in two new classes of battlefield missile with ranges of 40km (22nm)and 100km. They also propose: acquiring highly mobile ground based air defence weapons; fielding UCAVs and decoy drones to reveal enemy air defences; using mini-UCAVs to provide company-level intelligence; fielding larger tactical UCAVs at the combat-unit level; increased integration of joint services space surveillance assets with land force surveillance and intelligence systems; and the fielding of joint airborne electronic warfare systems to disrupt enemy command and control.

The papers were prepared by the army's Combined Arms Training and Development Centre 18 months ago to support development planning from 2011 to 2030.

The papers postulate a highly complex Asia-Pacific in 2025, demanding a far more capable Australian Army. The "likelihood of Australian-led missions in the region will increase, and the army will need to logistically sustain battle group and stabilisation forces operating on up to two different missions concurrently".

The papers warn that "air platforms will remain a scarce asset in the [Australian] land force. Improvements in enemy weapon's lethality, and guidance and acquisition systems will significantly increase the threat to army aviation operations in the battlespace."

They also warn that "weapons of mass destruction technology will proliferate in South-East Asia in the next 50 years".

Source: Flight International