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The use of UAVs in the field of logistics: a potential to be exploited ...

Earth Thought Notebooks
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UAVs have been used successfully in armies since the 1960s. The French Army has engaged various weapon systems of this nature in external operations, notably in Afghanistan. Their use is currently being tested in the field of logistics for which they offer interesting prospects.

Themassive use of UAVs by the US military during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan has demonstrated the importance of this weapon system since the early 2000s. Initially confined to reconnaissance and intelligence missions, the drone is now capable of destroying an objective. France also has its own UAV systems: SDTI[1] and DRAC[2 ] for the Army, SIDM[3] and REAPER[4] for the Air Force. These vectors remain strictly unarmed. Their value was particularly highlighted during the engagement in Afghanistan following the Uzbeen ambush. There, they performed intelligence, reconnaissance and support missions for the troops involved, providing them with considerable assistance and a reassuring presence [5]. They are now engaged in Operation Barkhane. While UAVs are now fulfilling their role within the armed forces, their use in the civilian field is growing almost exponentially in many areas, including logistics. It therefore seems relevant to study the added value that the use of UAVs could bring to Army logistics.

Current work on the use of UAVs in logistics, both in the civilian sector and within several foreign armed forces, shows that the French Army could benefit from the use of UAVs in logistics.The work in progress on the use of UAVs in logistics, both in the civilian environment and within several foreign armed forces, suggests that the French Army could derive significant benefits from the development and use of UAV systems for its logistics, at the cost of only a few adaptations, given the experience already acquired in their implementation.

A lot of work is in progress

  • In the civilian sector

Private companies, particularly transport companies, are studying with interest the use of UAVs for the delivery of their products. Amazon and Google have indicated their intention to implement this type of service. DHL has already taken up the idea [6]. La Poste and its subsidiary GeoPost have experimented with UAV delivery [7]. A first trial took place in September 2014 on the site of the Centre d'études et d'essais pour modèles autonomes (CEEMA) in the Var, the only no-fly zone in France authorised by the DGAC to fly these remote-controlled aircraft. The test validated, in favourable weather conditions, the transport by drone of a two-kilogram package over a distance of 1,200 m. CEEMA has developed a device with six electric rotors capable of autonomously transporting large packages (40 cm x 30 cm x 20 cm) weighing up to four kilos within a radius of 20 km.

  • In the US Army

The USMarine Corps and the US Navy areconsidering the use of transport drones, such as the K-MAX UAS designed by Lockheed-Martin and Kaman. This aircraft, which was the subject of a $45.8 million contract, was developed on the basis of the K-Max helicopter, designed by Kaman to transport slung loads. Programmed before the flight with data on the point to be reached, speed and altitude, it is capable of transporting 2.7 tons of material with a ceiling of 15,000 feet (4,500 m) and a range of 556 km, maxima related to the nature of the load carried. A ground operator takes control of it at the time of delivery. A detail that is important in these times of budgetary rigour, the flight hour costs only $1,100 (about 1,000 euros). The K-Max, which has been flying autonomously since 2007, carried out an evaluation campaign that exceeded expectations and led the US Army to deploy two of them to Afghanistan [8].

8] Other projects of the same kind are under study or already have applications. For example, the Fire Scout, a reconnaissance drone helicopter designed by Northrop Grumman for the US Navy, can also transport equipment: with less capability than the K-Max, it is mainly used for emergency delivery of goods.

For its part, the US Air Force is alsoworking on an aircraft of this type. Finally, in February 2010, the manufacturer Sikorsky announced that it had mobilised a billion dollars to transform its Black Hawk into a drone .

The Army could derive significant benefits from their use.

  • In the field of routing

The use of UAVs for the delivery of food, ammunition and spare parts would enable the train weapon to overcome problems related to road practicability and to apply the principle of just-in-need by ensuring easy renewal of supplies. This would allow the number of supply convoys, which are relatively easy targets, to be reduced.

  • In the field of maintenance

The use of UAVs would make it possible to preserve the potential of logistic vectors and thus limit preventive maintenance operations. Vehicles, which are less frequently used, would break down less often and operational availability would be greatly improved. By using UAVs to deliver spare parts to the area where a vehicle breaks down, operational units would quickly recover their combat capabilities. The use of UAVs is also conceivable to automate inventory operations in supply stores (an inventory UAV is currently being developed for the corporate world).

  • In the medical field

The use of UAVs would allow the rapid evacuation of the injured backwards without risking the crew of a helicopter. It would also allow the delivery of medicines and blood to the victims in a very short time. Finally, it would enable troops to obtain medical assistance remotely, using equipment installed in the drone.

  • However, one obstacle remains to be overcome

Today, the cohabitation of UAVs and other manned craft is very constrained. French regulations on the insertion and management of UAVs in airspace have been the subject of two ministerial orders dated 17 December 2015 [9]. In fact, for the class of activity corresponding to the logistical uses generally considered in this article, a specific space must be devolved, guaranteeing total separation (in time or space) from other air traffic. This is due to the fact that the "see-and-avoid" rule cannot be implemented. The challenge today is therefore to develop an appropriately sized on-board system with a weight and energy consumption compatible with UAVs. Research is under way, notably in Australia. Researchers at the University of Queensland developed and tested early last year an on-board system for detecting other aircraft in flight for mini-UAVs [10].

A system that requires only a few adaptations

  • The training

Training structures already exist:

  • the Training Center delegated to the 61st Artillery Regiment of Chaumont ensures the training of personnel using UAVs;
  • the École supérieure et d'application du matériel (ESAM) provides training for maintainers.

  • Maintenance

The integrated structure for maintaining defence aeronautical equipment in operational condition (SIMMAD) is the delegated project manager and is in charge of the support policy for this equipment. The French Army's Light Aviation Command is in charge of the project management and maintenance of the equipment for which it is responsible.

Two cases are possible:

  • maintenance carried out by the industrial company: broken down sub-assemblies are dismantled and sent to the company for repair and supply of a sub-assembly in working order to repair the UAV. This is currently the case for the DRAC;
  • a maintenance provided by the institution, of SDTI type, with an NTI1 and an NTI2.

  • Operation

The deployment of UAVs within logistics can be considered in two ways:

  • a UAV detachment per logistics regiment with personnel and equipment: this solution is costly in terms of personnel and equipment, but allows greater flexibility for OPEX relief and real support;
  • a specialised detachment under the command of the logistics brigade or the force maintenance command: this solution is more cost-effective in terms of personnel and equipment, but would make it difficult to fulfil the operational contract.

In OPEX, the UAV detachment would be under the command of the command and support battalion, the unit that provides all the logistics services for an operation.

In conclusion

While the UAV, in its initial missions of intelligence and support to ground troops, has undergone phenomenal development, its use for logistical tasks is gaining ground. It is currently the subject of considerable research, both in civilian and military circles, and its future looks promising. It will not only save costs and resources, but will also allow for faster transport and greater responsiveness, which will make it possible to carry out a wide range of tasks in a more efficient manner.These are all advantages that could be attractive to the French Army, which can draw on its experience as well as on the structures and organisation already in place for the benefit of tactical UAVs.

Some French companies such as La Poste or Hardis Group are well ahead in this field and on this equipment: this would be an opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences.

[1] ITSD: Interim Tactical UAV System.

[2] DRAC: reconnaissance drone on contact.

[3] SIDM: Interim Male UAV System

4] REAPER: in English "the mower" or Predator-B

[5] "The Role of UAVs in the Armed Forces", Senate Briefing Report

6] "DHL inaugurates the first regular UAV delivery service", by Erwan Lecomte for Sciences et avenir.

[7 ] "GeoPost: UAV project", La Poste Group press service

8] "The K-Max transport drone gives satisfaction in Afghanistan", by Laurent Lagneau for

9] Order of 17 December 2015 on the design of civil aircraft operating without persons on board, the conditions of their employment and the capacities required of persons using them.

10] "Safety: "See and avoid" tested on a drone",

Title : The use of UAVs in the field of logistics: a potential to be exploited ...
Author (s) : Commandant Yann PANAGET