The Army wants to instantly get eyes in the sky to watch over a potential enemy. But spy drones or satellites or even fighter jets can be too slow to handle the job. The answer: missiles that carry surveillance drones inside.
That’s right. The military wants to shoot off loads of flying, spying robots, using missiles to make for faster surveillance and attack. “ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) platforms delivered from missiles can potentially provide battlefield information that is only seconds old when transmitted from long ranges,” the Army explains in a request for research proposals. “This information is particularly valuable since it is so current. It provides the potential for striking a very mobile enemy before he has time to alter his position.”
Darpa launched a similar research effort a few years back. If the Army’s attempt works, it’d be a first for the military: unmanned, long-range, ultra-high-speed surveillance. And the drone-filled missiles would double as aerial weapons: The Army wants the proposed unmanned aerial vehicles to be armed, “provid[ing] the possibility of a long-range strike mission at the end of the ISR mission.”
For the last few years, the U.S. military has been working on technologies and procedures that would allow them to conduct “prompt global strikes” — hits on targets anywhere in the world, in less than an hour. But Congress strongly objected the primary striker, a modified version of the Trident nuclear missile, because it would look and fly too much like an atomic attacker. Any shot contained the potential to inadvertently start World War III. Presumably, this Army project might start with a different sort of a missile, to avoid this wee issue.
Drones being shot out of missiles might mean a larger geographic range for surveillance, all in real time. But until the drones can analyze their own video, new robo-missiles won’t help the glut of data that’s coming in faster than personnel can scan it. Last year, chairman of the JASON Defense Advisory Group Roy F. Schwitters warned that “analysts are not currently equipped to cope with gobs of data and parse them in real time. This problem only will worsen as more surveillance aircraft are deployed.”