TECH. SGT. BRANDON SHAPIRO
5 July 2017
The era of drone warfare is in full force; embrace the concept and unveil its multifaceted advantages, oppose the concept and watch the adversary swiftly frustrate, compromise, and shape the battlefield.
The technology has come a long way from loading unmanned balloons with explosives and hoping the wind takes them in the direction of the enemy. Nowadays, the Air Force has the ability to launch a drone, operate at heights of 50,000 feet, and if the circumstance dictates, vaporize the target with 800-pound laser-guided, air-to-ground munitions.
Progressive efforts have been made to maintain the tactical advantage and keep special operations Airmen and their counterparts out of harm’s way.
Contributing to that undertaking are the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), engineering students and professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania (UPENN), and private industry providers in autonomy and drone technology.
Together they are working on a program called Fast Lightweight Autonomy. The program is exploring non-traditional perception and autonomy methods that could enable future high-speed, autonomous UAV navigation in cluttered environments with no communication links to the operator or GPS waypoints.
Today, entire operations can involve triangulating targets from geosynchronous satellites located 20,000 kilometers in outer space, and then, delivering pinpoint accuracy to any coordinate on the planet. Remarkable as that may be, based on the ever-evolving proliferation of modern warfare, terrorism and the countermeasures that coincide, conventional drone capabilities just don’t cut it.
With the quickly adaptive nature of insurgent and terrorist tactics is an uptick in urban, close-quarter, GPS denied, and dense cover scenarios. This is putting special operators in situations that no one wants to find himself in.
One organization that has a specific interest in the program and has been testing its use through commercial off-the-shelf (GPS capable and user operated) products is pararescumen with the Air Force’s Combat Search and Rescue career field.
“Anytime that you can enhance the Guardian Angel weapon system’s ability to move, shoot, and communicate, the concept is welcome,” said Capt. Ryan Ruddy, a combat rescue officer with the 308th Rescue Squadron. “One of the many methods that this is being accomplished is through the means of small, lightweight drone technology.