For more than a decade, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), have captured the public’s imagination,
which often mistakenly perceives these sophisticated
platforms as autonomous “drones” sent to conduct
surveillance operations and even engage in direct action
against enemies in far off lands with minimal supervision.
The reality, however, is far more prosaic and yet, in
some ways, more nuanced than most realize given the
infrastructure required to operate these semi-autonomous
RPAs are an asset which allow the military to conduct
various operations without directly placing the aircrew
in harm’s way. Unlike directly manned aircraft, RPAs in
some instances can be capable of long-endurance missions
which are not limited by human factors to the same extent
as traditional aircraft. However, RPAs, like any other
aircraft, still require maintenance and sustainment and the
infrastructure to support these activities, and for those
that are armed, have the same requirements for armament
test, whether on the flightline, at the intermediate level, or
at depot level.
Armed RPAs especially have become a platform of
choice for Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs), often
referred to as “smart weapons,” which are dependent upon
a variety of guidance options to make precision targeting
possible, requiring less ordnance to be used to achieve
a desired result and often reducing the likelihood of
inadvertent collateral damage. These sophisticated PGMs
require both pre-load and periodic storage test as well, and
Consolidating test capabilities for Remotely Piloted Aircraft.
By Stephen T. Sargeant, Major General, USAF (Ret.), Chief Executive Officer, Marvin Test Solutions, Inc.