The U.S. Air
Force is putting together a sensor and software package for its UAVs (Peer, or
Pilot Electronic Eyes Radar) to give
these pilotless aircraft the ability to "sense and avoid" manned
aircraft. The lack of such a capability limits many civilian applications,
because of the danger of collisions with manned private and commercial
aircraft. It also makes it more difficult for military UAVs to train in
civilian air space.
In the combat zone, the military controls the air space, and can deal
with UAVs the same way it does with warplanes, helicopters and artillery fire.
But these rules tolerate a higher degree of risk than civilian aviation will
The Peer package is being tested and tweaked, and the first UAV to get
it, later this year, will be the Global Hawk. At 13 tons, this UAV is the size
of a commuter airliner (like the Embraer ERJ 145). The new RQ-4B version is
larger (wingspan is 15 feet larger, at 131 feet, and it's four feet longer at
48 feet) than the A model, and can carry an additional two tons of equipment.
The air force expects to get the Peer package small and light enough for UAVs
like the 1600 pound Hunter, which can only carry about 200 pounds of sensors
The Global Hawk is in particular need of Peer, because it can cross
oceans, and it "self-deploys" (flies from the factory to a U.S. air
base, then on to an overseas base). While outside the combat zone, the Global
Hawk requires additional support (aircraft and air controllers) to get it out
of controlled civilian air space safely (and legally). But Peer will also make
it easier to train with UAVs in the
United States, and for UAVs to be used by law enforcement and civilian users.
Police want to use UAVs for surveillance, as do many civilian users (to watch
for, or monitor, forest fires) and many other uses.