UAVs: hit or miss?

out-00061Terrifying video captures moment German drone missed Afghan plane carrying 100 passengers by just two metre | Mail Online.

Pitiful attempts at contemporary journalism like this get right up my nose! Not only is it poor practice to take an incident that occurred nine years ago and portray it in such a manner that it appears to be a recent occurrence, it is even worse to do it on a topic that a. the ‘journalist’ in question clearly know nothing about; and b. in such a manner that all the ignorati out there that take the internet as gospel will break out their pitchforks and torches.

In all fairness, I may be just a little sensitive with regard to the time issue as I have just completed a university marking marathon in which I have been disappointed at the number of students that think that they can take an incident in one point in time and link it casually to another event some time later.

It’s also a beef I have with Max Boot’s latest book Invisible Armies where he takes a stance that a coercive approach to quelling irregularity, insurgency and other signs of unrest amongst ‘the people’ is counter-productive and ultimately leads to the downfall of the coercing regime. I take issue with this because

a. I think that historically, the coercive approach has actually been more successful than more populist forms of maintaining peace and order;

b. it is a big leap to link the downfall of a regime to the sacking of a city or decimation of a population some centuries (yes, centuries, not decades) before’ and

c. there are just as many indications that ‘peace, love and we’ll-build-you-a-schoolhouse’ approach to pacification is not that successful, regardless of its current contemporary favour.

The constructive advice I give to students in my markers comments is to to construct a timeline of events that MAY be relevant to their argument and then to examine that timeline to see if they can still draw a causal line between an event and the outcome that they wish to link it to e.g. did coalition application of Warden’s Rings theory, specifically to Iraqi leadership, in the 1991 Gulf War air campaign directly lead to the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2004? It almost sounds plausible until out into the context of time…Ms Becky Evans of the Daily Mail – and Max Boot, if you’re reading this – might wish to take note…

UAS operations are no more or no less safe than manned aircraft operations so long as the EXISTING rules are followed. In the case cited above by the Daily Mail, a combination of procedural air traffic control and air crew issues lead to the situation of the near miss, an actual collision being avoided by the crew of the UAS. The involvement of a UAS in a flight safety event does not automatically mean that the UAS is at fault. In another popular example of the dangers of UAS, where an Air National Guard C-130 struck an RG-7 Shadow in Afghanistan, the C-130 was at fault.

The Daily Mail does nothing but stir up ignorance and conceal the issues that do need to be addressed i.e. those of operators, of manned or unmanned systems, that fail to apply the minimum standards for safe operation of aircraft in a specific airspace environment. UAS are small and often fly close to the ground, making them very difficult to detect with time to take evasive action. As a result, airspace management ‘bureaucracy’ like NOTAMs, SPINs, ATOs, etc becomes so much more important for providing the situational awareness required by the operators of manned aircraft: might is only right until it gets to(o) stoopid

‘…with great power comes great responsibility…’ and thus the operators of (more powerful, bigger, faster) manned aircraft have the responsibility to ensure that they deconflict with UAS approved to operate in a  given area of airspace. There is little to be done about the cowboys on either side of the manned/unmanned fence that do not play by the rules e.g. the jet jocks that think that flying in a combat zone means they can zoom and boom wherever they like, or the private contractor that just flips their undeclared Ebay UAS into the sky because everyone knows that ‘…it’s a big-ass sky…’ apart from breeding those elements out of the aviation culture and fostering a sense of air-mindedness amongst anyone that thinks they need to operate an aircraft (with or without seats).

Here is New Zealand, small UAS fly commercially almost every day with the permission and blessing of the Civil Aviation Authority. They fly in and over urban areas, and in controlled airspace. How do they get away with it? Because the operators reviewed the rules, assessed the risk and offered a mitigation philosophy to the CAA. When, and only when, that mitigation philosophy was accepted, they were in business – literally.

The genie of small UAS proliferation is already out of the bottle, and it is unlikely that it will ever get drawn back in – not when camera-equipped UAS can be purchased from any Toys’r’Us – like so many other genies, small UAS are something that we need to get to grips with and the time for that is now…



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