DISCLAIMER: There is a certain amount of unavoidable 'recycling' going on this week. I've been asked a lot about the progress of our UAV system and the UAVs themselves. This post is intended to pull all the relevant UAV related bits into one coherent article and give you a view of what's happening and where we're going with all of this. And give me the opportunity to avoid doing anything actually like work. ISTAR - The eye in the sky.
Quite literally a peeping Tom.
UAVs have the ability to fly around and peek (or send a missile or bomb) into a window from several kilometers away has some fantastic intelligence opportunities. Not to mention some truly world class perving opportunities if you are that way inclined.
Slight aside for a short story.
An old friend of mine was a Police helicopter observer, one night we were sat at my place having a beer watching TV when Blue Thunder came on. Now if you know the film you'll know there is a scene where the 'heroes' use the helicopter's cameras to watch a lithe young lady doing yoga unencumbered by clothes
So i asked 'I bet you do that on a regular basis dont you? Perving git.''Of course. (Big Grin) there is a place in (Deleted - My friend is still and observer in this area wouldn't want to drop him in the shit) where a girl sun bathes naked on her terrace most days in the summer. And lets not forget the dogging spots, we find them on thermal and then turn on the Nightsun (F'ing powerful spotlight) and watch them scatter. It is a public service after all".
Ok so its not particularly relevant to UAVs, but it does highlight just how easy it is to be observed without being aware of it in today's world. Besides, it just seemed like an amusing story. And if you don't know what "dogging" is, Google it. But it probably won't be safe for work so you might want to wait until you get home.
Anyway, Modern military doctrine is now totally dependent on these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as ISTAR components. And there are just so many different classes and types out there to choose from. And just about anyone and everyone makes them, Just going off the Wikipedia List of unmanned aerial vehicles nearly every industrial nation makes something that can be classed as a UAV.
The next bit is ripped straight from Wikipedia... hey I'm lazy and they already did a pretty good job describing it all.
"UAVs typically fall into one of six functional categories (although multi-role airframe platforms are becoming more prevalent):
- Target and decoy – providing ground and aerial gunnery a target that simulates an enemy aircraft or missile
- Reconnaissance – providing battlefield intelligence
- Combat – providing attack capability for high-risk missions (see Unmanned combat air vehicle)
- Logistics – UAVs specifically designed for cargo and logistics operation
- Research and development – used to further develop UAV technologies to be integrated into field deployed UAV aircraft
- Civil and Commercial UAVs – UAVs specifically designed for civil and commercial applications
They can also be categorised in terms of range/altitude and the following has been advanced as relevant at such industry events as ParcAberporth Unmanned Systems forum:
- Handheld 2,000 ft (600 m) altitude, about 2 km range
- Close 5,000 ft (1,500 m) altitude, up to 10 km range
- NATO type 10,000 ft (3,000 m) altitude, up to 50 km range
- Tactical 18,000 ft (5,500 m) altitude, about 160 km range
- MALE (medium altitude, long endurance) up to 30,000 ft (9,000 m) and range over 200 km
- HALE (high altitude, long endurance) over 30,000 ft (9,100 m) and indefinite range
- HYPERSONIC high-speed, supersonic (Mach 1–5) or hypersonic (Mach 5+) 50,000 ft (15,200 m) or suborbital altitude, range over 200 km
- ORBITAL low earth orbit (Mach 25+)
- CIS Lunar Earth-Moon transfer
- CACGS Computer Assisted Carrier Guidance System for UAVs"
So given the terrain size of ArmA games and a healthy dose of common sense we can ditch a few of those classes:
- Hypersonic, yeah right I'm really going to model one of those. By the time the player gets to see anything you'd be out of range!
- Orbital? Erm, arent they called satellites?
- CIS Lunar Earth-Moon transfer?
OK so lets just confirm here. RKSL will not be making spaceships just yet. I think we'll focus on some more practical systems. A few years ago I started making UAV models for ArmA1. They didn't get too far because the UAV module that was available was a bit limited. Lets be honest it was crap in practical terms. The game engine let it down, the lack of working turrets on planes really messed with the functionality. So I do what i always do when i hit a snag. I skype UNN. Can we make a UAV system? The reply was "leave it with me". As usual he did his magic scripting thing and one day passes me a test mission with the caveat "be kind it's only a proof of concept". Several weeks later he recorded this:
Now, before the haters jump up and start screaming. Yes it was first published 4 years ago but there are several significant reasons it wasn't released back then. But let me remind you this is our hobby not our job. "Real world" issues were the largest factor for both me and UNN in our pause. Modding took a back seat for a while for both of us while we sorted out work and personal issues.
Around about the same I had an accident that rendered me incapable of independent movement for a while and the entire project was shoved to the back burner and neglected by both of us.
Picture if you will, a tight Victorian box staircase. Eight flights, each with a 90 degree turn, guarded by an (occasionally) polished oak handrail and cast iron rails perched on the edge of an original 100 year old cast iron stair case. Carpeted in the cheapest of hard wearing carpets that are guaranteed to generate enough static electric charge to make the most devout priest scream "Jesus fucking wept!" when you touch him. Each step lovingly held in place with a 'nice' steel carpet edge. Now place an empty wet Tesco carrier bag carefully on the penultimate step. Not over hanging but close enough to the edge to be able to slide away easily.
Imagine if you will a 280lb shaved Silverback (hey im getting old) Gorilla carrying a large mostly empty cardboard box. Roughly a 1m cube stuffed with the remnants of packing paper and other recyclable dross (We were a very environmentally conscious household). The aforementioned Gorilla then proceeded to carry said box above the also previously mentioned guardrail out onto the landing and down the stairs. My view obscured by the box I stepped confidently onto the first downward step. Transferring my weight fully onto the foot planted, not so firmly, as it happens on the wet Tesco bag. The bag, foot and all attached parties then shot off the step. Praying for an end to gravity I found myself mid air with the promise of some serious pain. I was not disappointed. Landing firmly, with the base of my spine and all my weight on the freaking EVIL SHARP EDGE OF THE... sigh... happy place. Haaaaappy place. ...Landing on the metal carpet edge I then reacted to the pain and shot up, losing any footing I momentarily had, I proceeded to go head first down the metal edged stairs. Rolling several times before hitting the wall, only to turn 90 degrees and roll down the next flight of stairs finally smashing into a neighbour's very solid - that hurt let me tell you - front door. Lying crippled on the floor for a few minutes, the door I hit opened with my neighbour peering from behind it. "Are you okay?"
"Me? Oh I'm fine I just love the pain."
"Okay" the door closed again.
Five or more minutes later, I've curled up in pain at this point and i really didn't much care if i died. It felt like I'd been run over by a herd of jack boot wearing elephants. I swear i saw the last few of them storm by in my pained state. Another, slightly more sensible neighbour appeared and helped me up stairs back to my flat.
To cut what is increasingly long story short, 4 weeks of hospital, I had chipped two vertebrae and severely damaged several nerves in my back making it impossible to walk for nearly 2 months. It took me a further 2 years to be able to walk without too much pain.
UNN on the other hand had just got a new job, successfully avoided wet Tesco bags and had taken up chain smoking.
But prior to my rather embarrassing accident - plastic bags and metal edged stair cases are not fun and back braces chaff a lot - I was merrily making as many UAV models as i could. I managed:
- Hermes 450 aka Watchkeeper 450 in British Army Terms
- Lockheed Desert Hawk I
- ADS-90 Ranger
- MQ-1 Predator - It was a REALLY terrible model.
- Prototype Predator 2
- MQ-9 Reaper - it is different from the Pred2
As with the scripted system these got left behind while other easier things took precedence. ArmA2 arrived, pottered around and we set about learning the new engine. UAV's forgotten for the moment.
Several projects later I rediscovered my previous UAV models and work begins again. Modernising, upgrading and just plain replacing most of the textures and some of the models. This time work centred around the MQ-9 Reaper. Again I nagged poor UNN and he completely rewrote the original system and hugely improving upon the functionality. I'll use UNN's own words here:
Again as Rock mentioned, you can register your own resource (HUD) to use along with two sets of scripts for updating and animating the HUD. The actual turret module is a standalone p3d and can in theory be added to anything. Although the fire mechanism may require some extra work.
But as it stands atm, in SP you can switch between the gunner and pilot and still retain the target. While occupying the turret as a gunner with an AI pilot, the UAV will either follow custom or pre-defined waypoints if set.
In MP you can switch roles by exiting the UAV terminal. Terminals are whatever object you add the user actions to.
There will be an auto pilot feature for mission planning.
AGMs and LGB's are the only weapons currently supported. There will be no dive bombing with AI pilots or gunners.
As far as the HUD info goes, the only static text is "Rate", frequency "1511" and temperature "21 /15c". Frequency will be enabled later on as part of the public server additions. Temperature isn't really relevant atm, and wouldn't add anything significant and probably just over complicating things. Everything else works and serves a purpose to a greater or lesser degree. Who wants target range in Nautical Miles (NM)?
As mentioned, some of it is based on our interpretation of You Tube videos. TWD being a good example. Lacking any better info, this represents the scale or distance covered by the display at the current zoom level. So in the first pic, the width of the displayed terrain is exactly 316m, from left to right.
This project has been on a reluctant hold, for two years due to other commitments. Originally we didn't want to post screen shots until it was close to release. But after a two year delay, knowing people are still interested in this, does help spur us on. So please forgive us if we don't release anything just yet."
I have grand visions of proper MP UAVs. Not just a scripted system you could log in and out of but a realistic UAV suite with a proper ground station manned by a Pilot and a "Gunner". But the system does allow a single user to swap between stations. Meaning that it may be possible to translate the scripts to the likes of the Typhoon and Tornado to simulate the various targeting pods engine limits permitting.
Last Christmas I had planned to release a few of the UAVs utilising the stock BIS UAV module. But again real life personal and domestic issues rose up and I was again thwarted. So here we are months later and I'm looking again at UAVs. Inspired in no small part by Feint's very impressive RQ-11 Raven
Well ArmA3 has me thinking. You see BIS have promised a significant upgrade to the UAV system for ArmA3 With ArmA3's release getting closer what to do next? Wait to see before continuing or just continue development? We haven't really talked about within the team yet. No one has really had the time but we still plan on finishing and releasing some new models for ArmA2 either just for the BIS module or maybe something else.
Well we have:
- MQ-9 Reapers <Pics>
- Elbit Hermes 450 aka Watchkeeper 450
- RQ-7 Shadow
- Desert Hawk I and III - May have to have a chat with Feint on this one.
and coming for ArmA3... eventually
The plan is to give each faction some form of UAV or maybe UCAV capability. But as always, remember projects rise and fall. Some may die off, while others rise to continue to preoccupy us. And of course this is just a hobby after all.