Dubai Air Show

UAVs, network-centric ops top talk at air chiefs meeting

 - November 16, 2009, 1:25 AM

The movers and shakers of the airpower world were out in force here Saturday for the Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference. Organized by the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis–the UAE-based think tank–the conference featured presentations from nine air force commanders or their deputies.

Gen. Norton Schwarz, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, described the new career field that he has recently approved for the operators and maintainers of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). Although the USAF has been flying MQ-1 Predators, MQ-9 Reapers and RQ-4 Global Hawks for years, “we still have a lot of cultural and operational adjustments to make,” he said.

Incidentally, don’t call them UAVs any more, Schwarz advised, “They’re not unmanned. They’re actually very manpower-intensive.” The USAF’s newly approved lexicon is remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). Schwarz did not explain whether this terminology will also be applied to autonomous UAVs, such as the Global Hawk.

Gen. Jean-Paul Palomeros, Chief of Staff of the French air force, described the challenges of network-centric operations, which include issues of national sovereignty; classification levels; intelligence- sharing; and technical language. He said NATO’s air command and control system was a good example of what can be achieved, even by such a large coalition.

Then the Italian air force deputy chief, Lt. Gen. Guisetti Bernadis, spoke on the subject of electronic warfare. He defined the subdisciplines of electronic surveillance, electronic defense and electronic attack and the challenges that each face.

Brig. Gen. Ibrahim, deputy commander of the UAE air force and air defense, described the evaluation process that has led to the selection of new basic and advanced training aircraft by the United Arab Emirates. Like other air forces, the UAE is seeking to “download” some pilot training from more expensive to less expensive aircraft.

The primary trainer should take on part of the syllabus previously flown by the advanced trainer, and the latter should be capable of assuming some of the flying that prospective air combat pilots now do in the operational conversion units.
Sir Glenn Torpy, who has just retired from command of the UK Royal Air Force (RAF), spoke about how air power can support the ground forces.

Lessons Learned
There have been many issues along the way, he noted. In the Kosovo campaign (Operation Allied Force, 1999), he said, “We found that we weren’t as good at close air support as we thought.” In Operation Anaconda (Afghanistan, 2001-02) “more lessons were learned.” Now in Afghanistan, air support has significantly improved, he said. But Torpy still had a number of recommendations to pass on concerning cross-service training for airmen and soldiers, the use of dual-mode guidance systems on weapons, the need to task ISR systems properly and then fuse and cross-cue the results, and the role of synthetic training. 

Torpy’s successor as the RAF chief, Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton, spoke about interoperability. First, though, he said advocates for airpower must step up and explain themselves more clearly. There are four key roles, he said: control of the air; attack; air mobility; and intelligence/situational awareness. As for his main subject, he gave some practical examples of interoperability, noting that “standards, processes and protocols are the keys.” Dalton said more coordination is needed with regards to the use of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Air Marshall Mark Binskin, chief of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), spoke about the role of AEW&C and Air Defense, with particular reference to the Wedgetail system that the RAAF is now accepting from Boeing.

Finally, a Lebanese air force (LAF) official gave a presentation about the “Hueybomber.” This was a belt-and-braces modification of Bell UH-1 helicopters undertaken by the LAF following a terrorist attack and occupation of a large military compound in the north of the country in 2007.

To support the retaking of the compound by Lebanese troops, the Hueys were modified to carry 250- and 400-kg bombs, which were dropped on buildings occupied by the insurgents.