In recent years, we have witnessed a significant shift in military technology, leading to the widespread utilization of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) by armies across the globe. The relative affordability, operator safety, advanced technologies, and their indispensability on the battlefield have sparked a true Cambrian explosion in the production of UAVs.
Military forces worldwide have recognised the potential presented by UAVs, and have begun integrating them into their military strategies. They have become an integral part of modern conflicts and peacekeeping missions, offering armies new capabilities and advantages.
The application of UAVs enables the achievement of several important objectives. Firstly, UAVs are capable of conducting reconnaissance and surveillance over significant distances, providing valuable data on enemy positions and actions. They can conduct search and detection of enemy forces, monitor the movement of vehicles, and control borders and territories.
Secondly, unmanned systems can be used to support ground operations by providing precise enemy location data, assisting in weapon deployment, and coordinating troop actions. They are also capable of executing attacks on ground targets, carrying out missions to destroy specific objects, and providing fire support. Furthermore, UAVs play a crucial role in facilitating communication and connectivity during military operations. They can be used for data transmission, video streaming, and command dissemination between military units on the battlefield, ensuring more efficient and secure communication.
Kazakhstan, as a country closely following the trends in military technology development, places a particular emphasis on training UAV operators. The Military Institute of the Air Defense Forces of Kazakhstan has been running a UAV operator training program for several years already.
The most commonly used UAV in Kazakhstan’s Armed Forces is the Israeli lightweight reconnaissance UAV, Skylark 1LEX.
The Skylark 1LEX - is a compact UAV with a length of approximately 2.9 meters and a wingspan of around 3.6 meters. Its maximum takeoff weight is approximately 40 kilograms. It can fly distances of up to 40 kilometers and provides a flight endurance of approximately 6 hours, enabling extended surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The UAV is equipped with various payloads, including electro-optical sensors for day and night observation, as well as infrared sensors for thermal imaging. The UAV utilises a pneumatic system for takeoff and a parachute system for landing, making it suitable for operations in confined spaces.
Senior lecturer at the Department of Air Navigation and Combat Control of the Aviation Institute, Lieutenant Colonel Vadim Chubachuk, provided insights into the prospects of UAV development and operator training:
Does the Institute train operators specifically for the Skylark 1LEX?
“The initial flight training is conducted on the Skylarks. In the subsequent years, during the 3rd and 4th academic years, the cadets will travel to Taraz, where the main UAV base is located. There they will receive training in operating other larger UAVs, such as the WingLoong-1 or ANKA.”
Could you tell us about the theoretical training that future operators undergo? What are the main aspects covered in the UAV operator course?
“During the first academic year, general education subjects are taught, including advanced mathematics, physics, and aviation technology. From the second academic year onwards, specialized disciplines are introduced. Cadets delve into the study of gliders, UAV structures, air navigation, and aerodynamics. Upon completing the second year in August, a two-week ground training takes place at the Khlebodarovka airfield, followed by passing the necessary assessments. Afterwards, the cadets can begin piloting the Skylark directly.”
How in demand are UAV operators within the military ranks?
“The majority of graduates go on to serve in the Ground Forces. However, those who choose to specialize in heavier UAVs, like the WingLoong-1 and ANKA, proceed to the Air Force.”
What skills are required for UAV operators?
“Specifically for the Skylark, the most important skill is proficiency in personal computers. Knowledge of vector graphics and drafting is often necessary. Creating circles or delineating zones, akin to using Corel Draw, is essential. Additionally, the ability to work with data or at least comprehend it is crucial. Mathematics and air navigation knowledge are also necessary. As for larger UAVs, flight experience becomes a requirement. Since heavy UAVs take off from and land on runways, understanding takeoff and landing principles, particularly in unfavorable conditions, is vital.”
How many hours of training does a UAV operator undergo?
“According to the approved Skylark operator program, the distribution of hours is as follows: 40 hours of theory, theory examinations, and our requirements for passing aerial and meteorological navigation assessments. In addition, there is a requirement to accumulate 10 hours of daytime flight and 6 hours of nighttime flight.”
Do they work with simulators during their training?
“Yes, what makes the Skylark convenient for us is that it does not require a separate simulator. Its console has two modes: simulator mode and flight mode.”
So, it seems the selection of the Skylark for the institute was not a random choice?
“We have just received the UAVs this year. We are analysing our own and others' experiences and gradually building our base.”
Are you establishing your own school for UAV operators?
“Yes. After all, the Skylark initially appeared in the Ground Forces about 10 years ago, and now we are slowly implementing it into the Air Force.”
What advantages does the Skylark offer for the Ground Forces?
“The advantages of the Skylark for the Special Operations Forces (SOF) are undeniable. It is small, inconspicuous, and relatively affordable. Once it reaches an altitude of 500 meters, it becomes virtually invisible. Furthermore, it does not require a runway, as it can take off from any point and conduct reconnaissance missions far from airbases. Even if the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is shot down, all the information remains stored on the console. The mobile team retrieves the data without engaging with the enemy, using it for tasks such as artillery fire correction.”
Considering the modern conflicts, what are the future prospects for UAVs? How do you view the cost reduction and increased proliferation of drones, especially when civilian drones are modified for military purposes?
“In contemporary military conflicts, there is a conflict between humans and technology, specifically between humans and drones. The mass utilization of UAVs is not surprising. What would take a reconnaissance team a day can be accomplished by a conditional Skylark in just two hours. Regarding the conversion of civilian drones for military use, we believe that each piece of technology should serve its own purpose. Modifying a civilian drone for combat purposes can significantly impact its tactical and technical characteristics. There is a risk that the drone may become uncontrollable. However, if civilian drones are employed solely for reconnaissance purposes, the operating principle remains the same. Once again, each machine has its own designated objective.”