As the old adage goes, knowledge is power. From the early days of aviation, that adage has been applied in the form of aerial reconnaissance. As technology has improved, methods have progressed from a guy with a camera leaning out of a fabric biplane to unmanned aircraft sporting the latest in sensor technologies. With current military and civilian applications of unmanned aircraft systems rapidly expanding, a new industry is beginning to flourish.
The largest operator of unmanned aircraft, such as the Global Hawk, is the U.S. Military. Current engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have put the aircraft to the ultimate test. By all indications, the aircraft have passed with flying colors. That’s no surprise when you consider that a UAS circling at more than 50,000 feet above the ground can take high-resolution pictures that allow you to distinguish between cars on the ground.
Even more amazing is the research and development work companies like Raytheon are performing to expand the capabilities of these aircraft. New technologies are being developed to allow these same aircraft to capture cell phone transmissions and locate the caller or detect nuclear and chemical labs. With so much available in one self-sufficient aircraft that can orbit an area nonstop for days, no wonder the military is buying more and more.
It’s not often that an industry develops and flourishes in lean years like the UAS industry, but given their ever-expanding applications, the industry will continue to boom for quite some time. Despite Pentagon budget cuts in areas like fighter jets and ships, the UAS industry is expected to expand from $3 billion in revenue to more than $6 billion within the decade.
In total, the military currently has more than 7,000 drones of various sizes deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite some high-profile cases of armed drones, most are primarily used for surveillance. The Global Hawk is the top of the food chain in the surveillance realm offering more than a days worth of endurance, the capability to operate at more than 60,000 feet above the surface, and a suite of the most advanced cameras and sensors ever developed.
The current fleet of UAS are generating so much data that the military isn’t equipped to process it all. According to Pentagon officials, UAS have generated so much video footage in the last year alone that it would take 24 years for single analyst to watch it all. A single UAS with the multiple cameras and other sensors generates enough data to perform unprecedented levels of reconnaissance, but without people to process the data, it doesn’t do much good. In short, the military and an ever-increasing number of civilian companies are looking to hire qualified operators and analysts to cope with the information and it looks like the jobs are here to stay.