DOD's Use of Remotely Piloted Vehicle Technology Offers Opportunities for Saving Lives and Dollars

MASAD-81-20: Published: Apr 3, 1981. Publicly Released: Apr 3, 1981.

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Remotely piloted vehicles (RPV) have been credited with eliminating pilot and crew losses and lowering operating costs. They have also been said to increase vehicle survivability and performance because of their increased maneuverability and detection avoidance. GAO reviewed the status of remotely piloted vehicle technology to see if it could have wider application in the military and civil sectors.

While some technological limitations to widespread use of the vehicles exist, experts agree that problems could be overcome if a real interest in them were to develop. Because the military services have been reluctant to take advantage of the promise which was demonstrated by unmanned aircraft in Vietnam, funding support has diminished. No civil programs for using remotely piloted vehicles exist. Unless they are developed for military use, which would make them affordable, they will not find widespread use in civil applications. The Department of Defense (DOD) has no operational remotely piloted vehicles, only two development programs, and limited plans for future applications. A remotely piloted vehicle is considered to be better suited than manned aircraft for harassment, decoy, surveillance or reconnaissance, and electronic warfare support missions. These vehicles eliminate pilot risks, are cheaper to build, entail less training costs, save fuel, and are more survivable than manned aircraft. Their performance under emergency or unforeseen conditions and recovery difficulties are the most widely perceived disadvantages to military unmanned systems. In the civil sector, they could be used effectively for meteorological data gathering, atmospheric sampling, and surveillance.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should scrutinize proposed manned aircraft developments to assure that DOD gives adequate consideration to the use of the RPV technology for some of the missions to be performed. While DOD is making some use of RPV technology, there is a need to assure that its use is maximized where suited to save lives and money.


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