The Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA, hasn’t focused on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) since that “fad” faded away at Air Force Space Command nearly a decade ago. Before then, an Air Force Chief of Staff created a “near space” initiative to fly UAVs above the jet stream for months at a time. He specifically intended that new technology to support orbiting assets with communication, space control, space surveillance, replenishment and other capabilities.
At this year’s Symposium, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James (in the picture) made several points that seemingly demonstrated the recurring need for unmanned systems in near space. The Russian and Chinese threats to orbiting assets grow daily. The US has limited access to space and is too dependent on Russian rocket engines. Space assets are very expensive, can be killed and are critical to everything else the American military does.
General John E. Hyten, the Space Command commander, added that space capabilities are like a ‘light switch’ to the American and allied forces. Those troops often don’t know they’re relying on space capabilities; they just know the light switch works every time. And it needs to stay that way.
How is all of that relevant to truly persistent UAVs? The space problems of a decade ago simply got worse. In the meantime, other nations (Russia, China, South Korea, Japan, India, even Portugal) and commercial companies (Google, Airbus, Facebook, StratXX) are working to deliver communications from the stratosphere in exactly the way pioneered by the American Air Force. But the American government gave up. That means their space forces are left to defend critical capabilities without assets that were once recognized as revolutionary, game changing, and that they’ll soon face from other nations.
And yes, Space Command’s rejection of technology that could make a real difference today resulted from purely cultural considerations. As one of General Hyten’s predecessors famously announced, “We follow the laws of Kepler, not the laws of Bernoulli.”
But America’s adversaries follow the laws of war according to Sun Tzu, without such crippling cultural confusions. Those who know history remember that the American military culture discounted the imperial Japanese as inferior yellow people and so were slow to innovate, until Pearl Harbor. Is the American space force repeating that lethal mistake?
Market Info Group (MiG) forecasted this outcome in several technology and market reports, like: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Defense and Security: Technology & Markets Forecast – 2013-2021 and Stratospheric UAV Payloads – Technology and Market Forecast – 2012-2021.
These are only two of MiG’s complete series of UAV reports that you can review at: The UAV Market Reports Series
And, of course, don’t miss our latest in-depth analysis of Satellite Communication – Civilian and Military.
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