OPINION | The Drone Theory: To the Future & Beyond

OPINION | The Drone Theory: To the Future & Beyond

By Group Captain Murli Menon (Retd.)
Indian Air Force


OPINION | The Drone Theory: To the Future & Beyond

Image Attribute: DroneImagineNation / CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay.com

Three decades ago a pet question in the Air Power examination for the Wellington Staff College used to be on whether unmanned fights would replace manned ones. Most of the hung ho aviators then pitched for the inevitability of the man behind the machine, little anticipating the quantum advancements in drone technology. Leave alone the advent of UCAV and hard kill drones, every entrepreneur from Amazon to medical pioneers in organ transplants are leaping headlong into this wondrous technology. For India especially with it proven IT and indigenous GPS prowess, we can expect increasing advent in drones in every possible commercial, emergency services, and medical fields. Imagine the ingenious use of such technology by TechHaus venture during the half time show at this year’s Super Bowl, innovating the “Volantis” flying dress for Lady Gaga! No wonder the aerospace museum at New York’s Intrepid  has recently set up a  new exhibit on drones titled “Drones: is sky the limit?”, which they expect would need constant updates year on year.

Image Attribute: Lady Gaga's "TechHaus Volantis" Flying Dress

Image Attribute: Lady Gaga's "TechHaus Volantis" Flying Dress 

Historical Backdrop


Americans believe that unmanned aircraft capable of independent flight have been around for 150 years when Union soldiers used observation balloons to track Confederate troops in 1862 and unsuccessfully attempted drones dropping bombs! Then again Americans employed cameras on kites over Cuba during the Spanish-American War in 1898. During World War I the airplane was a  relative invention but yet pilotless "aerial torpedos", the precursor of the cruise missile, were in vogue. During World War II none other than then unknown heartthrob Marilyn Monroe was pictured assembling radio controlled "Denny Hobby Planes" manufactured at California’s Radioplane Co.

Image Attribute: Reginald Denny at Denny Hobby Shop at Hollywood Boulevard / Source: ctie.monash.edu.au

Image Attribute: Reginald Denny at Denny Hobby Shop at Hollywood Boulevard / Source: ctie.monash.edu.au

Other Applications for Drones


Over the years several applications of the technology came into being. A “Scan Eagle” drone was developed to spot shoals of fish. These drones had a unique method of recovery, a GPS locator guiding the drone on to a clothesline on the ship’s deck, where it would hang on its own hook, thus precluding a sea retrieval. Recently a few USAF F-16s have been modified for drone role as QF-16, making them agile targets for weapon systems such as Patriot missiles.

Image Attribute: QF-16, an unmanned version of aging F-16 / Source: USAF/DOD

Image Attribute: QF-16, an unmanned version of aging F-16 / Source: USAF/DOD

Command Tactical Unit of New York Fire Department (NYFD) in U.S are using drones mounted with infrared sensors to assess fires before deploying firefighters.


Video Attribute: NYFD's Official Youtube Channel

Image Attribute: An 8-pound NYFD Drone, costing $85,000 is being used at the scene and a live feed of the operation is transmitted to the command vehicle. Currently, the department has three drones at its disposal

Image Attribute: An 8-pound NYFD Drone, costing $85,000 is being used at the scene and a live feed of the operation is transmitted to the command vehicle. Currently, the department has three drones at its disposal

Drones are now helping to enhance their profit margins by managing their fields more efficiently, distributing pesticides depending on soil acidity.

Image Attribute: Marlborough surveyor Mike Russell demonstrates a drone being used to measure relative vine performance in a vineyard. / Source: Stuff.co.nz

Image Attribute: Marlborough surveyor Mike Russell demonstrates a drone being used to measure relative vine performance in a vineyard. / Source: Stuff.co.nz

Drones have been found to be useful in “hurricane hunting” thanks to their capability to access the turbulent bottom zones of hurricanes where the predictive data emanates, thus improving predictability and need for predictions.

Image Attribute: Post-Hurricane Sandy federal funding, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, provided NOAA with the opportunity to test this new technology - "Coyote" Drone in hopes of better understanding and evaluating how storms evolve and intensify. / Source: NOAA/AOML

Image Attribute: Post-Hurricane Sandy federal funding, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, provided NOAA with the opportunity to test this new technology - "Coyote" Drone in hopes of better understanding and evaluating how storms evolve and intensify. / Source: NOAA/AOML

A similar application in our context would be to predict paths and severity of the several monsoon cyclonic phenomena around the subcontinent. Employment during other natural calamities such as floods and earth quakes and in counter-terror ops need not be gainsaid. Some American universities have introduced drone studies in their curricula to monitor and study Kate's trends in the technology and subsequent transmission to government, industry and the public at large.

Conclusion

The concept of unmanned aircraft is being applicated not only in all spheres of military endeavor but in commercial ventures such as Amazon item delivery and autonomous automobiles and airliners in the future. The increased reliability and speed of computational technologies would now facilitate applications once thought impossible. Miniature drones have applications in search and rescue and pestilence control.  This definitely appears to be the road ahead for timely, accurate and non-risky aerial applications. Professionals, academics, scientists and entrepreneurs in our country need to give their due to the drone technology and should try to bring in cost-effective self-reliant hardware into the Indian landscape.

About the Author:

Group Captain (Retd.) Murli Menon
Group Captain (Retd.) Murli Menon served in Indian Air Force for 32 years, transiting its tactical, operational, strategic and conceptual appointment spectra with credit. He was India’s Air Advisor to Indian High Commission at Islamabad, Pakistan (2000-2004). In his second avatar, he served for 8 years with India’s Cabinet Secretariat, including a stint as Consular at Ankara, Turkey from 2008-2011.

He was one of the pioneers in the IAF’s Doctrine Think Tank – “Air War Strategy Cell” that produced India’s first Air Power Doctrine, the IAP 2000 in 1995. His interests include strategic studies and post-retirement, he contributes to various think-tanks based out of New Delhi, India. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IndraStra Global.
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