‘’In advance, anticipating events’’: Italian Navy ‘s trials of Uav.

Outside La Spezia’s  harbor, aboard  a class  Soldati  Frigate, in unfavorable weather, and a sea -state 4 to 5, in presence of more than 10 ft .waves, the  Italian Navy  has accomplished, for the first time ever, trials with an unmanned helicopter, UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle),Camcopter  S-100 type.

More precisely  it has been  tested  the different tasks  the UAV can do, or to better saying ,what an  UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Sys) can, considering it as a complex systems including  ground  stations for  flight control, for  data transmission and  other sensor elements, besides  the actual air vehicles  made of  2  S-100 Camcopter, to be able through the embarked  optronic  sensors for reconnaissance of various targets at  sea, and surveillance over large sea areas.  Camcopter is  a  limited dimensions  rotary -wing’s  UAV, built by  the Vienna-based  Schiebel  Group, particularly  interesting  for the great flexibility, the payload that it can carry, the large endurance, and the cheap management costs especially  if compared with other   ‘’manned’’  air-vehicles  operating  on our Ships: first of all it is expendable in a large variety of  risky missions because…there is no pilot aboard, nor passengers .  Practically they carried out several  take-off and landing maneuvers, from an unstable  flight deck due to adverse weather conditions, but – at the same time- various operational tasks for searching and reporting, in real time, target’s data detected in operation’s area, by the appropriate use of  TV camera  and FLIR  embarked. For the  first time, in the  Italian Naval Aviation’s history, the extraordinary couple  Ship-Helo in which the Italian Navy relied  among the world’s Navies , since many decades ago, now  is becoming improved with a high capability ‘’unmanned’’ asset  particularly  interesting  even under a ratio cost-effectiveness view. So not only take-off and landing trials in bad weather  conditions and with a relative wind speed up to 40 knots (about 75 km per hour), to test the interface  of the S-100 with the Ship, but inclusive of many operational  trials  conducted at great distance from the ship, carrying out several maritime surveillance  and reconnaissance’s  missions  with reports , in an asset almost completely ‘’covert’’. Such trials ,conducted with TV and IR sensors, for night recon, last about 5  flight hours; the payload can vary with a sensor’s mixing –choosing the best ones for the mission-  with the highest possible  flexibility, to be integrated with Radar, EW , Intelligence   different gears, etc.  The ‘’long eye’’ can ,most likely, change its role in a ‘’extended arm’’( in the  near future, hopefully, with light armament) as a force multiplier of any  Ship fitted with a flight deck ; it represents  an added value  that increases the Ship’s  overall capability, even when  in presence of heavy threats , as you don’t want  to put at risk either the pilot’s  lives or the passengers ‘ones, as well.    The UAVs can perform different tasks and types of missions  over ample sea  areas , staying  in flight for prolonged periods of time being  otherwise impracticable –due to psycho  and physical  stress- for a pilot, considering its large endurance; but even for the stealthness ‘s issue ( S-100 is low radar’s detectable , not easily visible due to reduced dimensions, and not easily hearable ..) that all together   provide a set of good defense coverage. The results were outstanding also for the high definition  images transmitted and for the data   provided  using a high performance TV/IR camera   (Wescam  MX-10 type), resulted perfectly  smooth without any kind of vibrations typical of all the two-bladed  disc  rotor  helicopter, as Camcopter . For the Italian Navy  the event has to be considered as an ‘’absolute prime’’ with the UAV, even if the S-100 had chances to successfully  prove its maritime surveillance  capability on 14 different classes  of vessels (German, French, Pakistan, etc) so  far in three Oceans. The radius  of action, the endurance of more than 6 hours extendible exceptionally to 10, the great capability to carry payload (50 kg among TV, FLIR, Radar, EW sets, etc.) make S-100 a precious  tool   to survey  large areas, as in  anti-piracy tasks, in  immigration control  over  the sea, and in  eco-environmental    checks , and in any situation when  the  risk  from pollution or contamination may be highly dangerous.    UAV ‘s use is not certainly  new ; since 1959 the USAF began planning for the use in  intel missions ,then in the  Vietnam war, further in the Gulf war, and finally in Iraq and Afghanistan, as  technology  growth and maturity and better performances were proved, including at last the  Hellfire missile fittings. Their  dual use in the  civilian field, is very useful  in the SAR operations both in accidents  happening in mountains or at sea , but they are very  well suited   to carry out   environmental  survey, to check for  chemical and biological pollution, fires, pipeline security, and illicit trafficking such as piracy, smuggling, etc.  To have a better idea of UAV   development, we must say that US  have increased   their numbers (just considering   the Medium and Large UAVs, from Global Hawk to the Predator) till almost 700 UAVs, and only in the Iraq –Afghanistan war  there have been  employed more than 5000 various types, between strategic  and tactical ones. Even the US Navy has recently decided to improve her  ships  operational capabilities  with the adoption of  rotary –wing  UAVs, very similar in performance  to the Camcopter (the Fire Scout), through an acquisition of about 30 systems to task them  as a priority, but not limited, in ISR roles  (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance).   Robotic is running fast around the world, in civilian and military fields;  a data inlighting: when I was stationed in US CentCom in 2004, involved in Iraq-Afghanistan wars; the US Army was employing about 150 autonomous robots of different kinds;  now they employ about 4000 for survey roles, detaching mines or the famous IED. In the future we should be more and more aware of the new IT applied to the aircrafts and to the robotics in general, either in civilian or military fields, because that ’s going to influence our overall security and the civil progress of our lives. The limits will not be related to the more and more fostered IT, but due to two different issues. First, it will depend   on our level of attention  toward the Cyber Security and  on our capability to monitor and answer to face threats or issues in the computer science  or network as  the  IT  will reach levels  that now  are unpredictable , in order to avoid  that one day  someone  may  ‘’ pull the plug’’. On the other hand, a limit can be the political view of UAV issues, and the related  ethics in their roles , when UAVs are to be employed  in war or in RWO, not only unmanned, but ‘’armed’’ as well. We then may  always need   to have the ‘’man in the loop’’, the man who thinks, the man who decides, the man who leads the actions, on his own, his quality, his values and his common good sense which are going to be, even in the future, the main important thing  not subjected  to trading –off even up-front  the brightest  robotic inventions!

Giuseppe Lertora

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