With a growing level of autonomy, especially when leveraged by Artificial Intelligence (AI), RPAS will also challenge the approach to verification in the aviation environment, currently not adapted for the certification of non-deterministic systems. This issue has been identified as one of the key priorities to be addressed through the EDA Industry Exchange Platform on RPAS Air Traffic Insertion which has been established to steer the discussion between EDA, its Member States, European industry and stakeholders for the identification of the new research projects required to ensure the full integration of RPAS in European airspace.
Finally, in a peacetime environment, the challenge is also to integrate such a platform alongside the manned aircraft within a modernised European ATM system which will be a fully interconnected system enabled by a progressive increase of the level of automation support.
That said, the afore-mentioned operational benefits are a reality and make unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) truly valuable assets. As a consequence, the numbers of UAVs in the inventories of Member States’ Armed Forces are expected to grow significantly over the coming years, be it for ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions with systems ranging from micro-UAV to large, high-altitude platforms or for deep strike combat missions carried out with low-observable Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs).
Issues to be addressed to explore the full potential of UAVs
Nevertheless, many technological, regulatory and training-related challenges are still to be addressed and fixed before a wide range of unmanned aerial systems can realise their full operational potential.
As discussed previously, ensuring a safe air traffic integration of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) into controlled airspace (and also into non-controlled airspace) as well as providing adequate cyber-protection of systems (which are by design highly connected) are among the key challenges to tackle.
Independence from third (non-EU) countries and companies also has to be guaranteed to ensure Europe can achieve the appropriate level of strategic autonomy that is required in this crucially important defence capability domain. This is exactly what EU Member States are doing by developing cooperative projects to come up with cutting-edge European technical solutions.
Providing suitable and comprehensive mission training and opportunities for tactical development and building a shared operational culture can also be challenging as RPAS units are – unlike conventional air force squadrons – often isolated and geographically separated from their coalition partners with little opportunity for crosspollination of ideas or to build professional relationships. Moreover, many training regimes are highly platform specific and may be bound by intellectual property rights (IPR) and contractual restrictions that can restrict interoperability between platform types.
EMALE RPAS Community Working Group
The European Medium Altitude, Long Endurance, (EMALE RPAS) Community Working Group is chaired by EDA and, together with the European Air Group (EAG), supports Member States’ efforts to resolve some of these issues. Since 2016, the Working Group and the EAG have been looking to improve communication and interoperability between their national RPAS communities through regulator meetings looking at doctrine, operational procedures, training, logistics and maintenance domains for synergies and opportunities to pool and share resources. The latest initiative is a low-cost training technology demonstrator project, which will see the deployment of 10 generic, desktop simulators across national RPAS centres of excellence and schools. The system is linked over a private network which will allow basic tactical training and communication between sites so that approaches to training and teaching protocols can be shared, procedures streamlined/standardised and best practices identified by all participants. The demonstrator will run until 2021 but its practical benefits will remain and further develop in the longer term, as building trust and understanding is the ultimate enabler for improved coalition capability.