The Army just unveiled their newest drone, and if it lives up to its billing, it has the potential to revolutionize the way our troops deploy, get information, and conduct war fighting. The Persistent Aerial Reconnaissance and Communications (PARC) system is a small, four-rotor drone that can stay aloft as long as it receives power from a base unit on the ground. Without the need for onboard fuel, PARC can loiter over its base unit indefinitely… which means its surveillance and communications range are greatly increased, and, barring an attack on it or its power supply, there are no down times for these increased capabilities.
Although PARC isn’t the first drone to be designed for small unit use, it is the first one that can stay airborne for more than a few hours at a time. This expanded capability comes at the cost of maneuverability. PARC is tethered to its base unit by power and information cables and is not an autonomous vehicle with the capability to avoid airborne threats.
PARC is designed to operate between 500 and 1,000 feet above ground, giving a small unit the visual range of almost 40 miles. That’s considerably further than the 3 miles of visual range that perfect conditions allow a man to see from his height.
Additionally, PARC is designed for ease of use. Specialized pilot training is not required for its operators to use. The ground control system does the work of navigation and flying the drone; the operator simply tells it where they want it to go. Most of the operator controls are used for controlling the surveillance payload.
What this means is that small units will soon have a much greater Over-The-Horizon (OTH) communication and surveillance capability. Whether in urban or open settings, small units will be able to visually see what ground conditions are and whether visible enemies and targets are available and where they are located. Hostiles approaching the unit can also be detected, automatically, at a much greater range than is currently possible, and the range of line of sight communications, which includes VHF radio, will be greatly enhanced. Information is power, and PARC will extend the range from a circle 9 miles in diameter to one that is 80 miles in diameter.
Using my rudimentary math skills, that gives an increased area of surveillance from a little over 28 miles of area to over 5,000 miles of area. Of course, those numbers are rough and assume perfect conditions and perfect visibility. Obviously, in the real world, perfect results and perfect scrutiny are impossible, but the expanded capabilities are incredible. However, even without perfect visibility and numbers, the exponential increase in capabilities will revolutionize command and control capabilities of small units.
The Army’s Rapid Equipping Force (REF), which picked the drone in July for testing, is tasked with watching for and adopting technologies out of the military mainstream for use by the U.S. Army. They have a rich history of adapting civilian technological achievements for use by the military.
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