UK chief of defence procurement, Sir Robert Walmsley, has spelled out the UK Ministry of Defence's increasing interest in use of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).
"UAVs are capable of providing support to the warfighter or even becoming a replacement for the warfighter and have gained the critical mass necessary for serious consideration and exploitation," said Walmsley in a keynote speech earlier this month at the Bristol International RPV/UAV Systems Conference.
He says that the UK MoD's interest in using UAVs remains undampened, despite its bad experience with delays to the GEC-Marconi Phoenix tactical UAV for the British Army. He claims the British Army "-is impressed with Phoenix and the UK now has in service one of the few tactical UAV systems anywhere in the world. It is testament to the quality of the design that Phoenix remains at the forefront of tactical systems".
UAV technologies are among the concepts that are being studied for the RAF's Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) which will eventually replace the Panavia Tornado GR4. "It would seem likely that a UAV system may well be able to meet a number of the currently perceived future FOAS roles," says Walmsley.
He adds, however, that, in general, UAV solutions should be "-considered to complement rather than replace manned aircraft", given some "distinct advantages" in undertaking dull, dirty or dangerous missions.
He says the UK SDR "-provides an opportunity for UAV systems to take their rightful place as alternatives to other more conventional and well established options".
While optimistic about the UAV's future, Walmsley believes that critical issues, such as airspace management and airworthiness standards, remain to be resolved before UAVs gain widespread military and civil acceptance.