War News Updates links to a very long, but very interesting analysis of the cost effectiveness of the MQ-9 Reaper system. While the analysis is rather hostile to the Reaper, citing high costs, low effectiveness, and limited functionality, it’s also well sourced and clearly food for thought.
Clearly, the Reaper program costs a lot of money. And contrary to some champions of UAS technology, the age of manned aircraft isn’t quite over. But commanders today insist on persistent overhead assets. The balance between mission effectiveness and cost is the question. Can a simple system like the hand-launched Raven suffice for most operations? Is the need for unmanned penetration into denied territory such as Pakistan so great?
One of the real limitations of current UAS technology is their reliance on electro-optical sensors. While the camera footage from drones has been a staple of Daily Dose of Splodey posts here, the fact is, a simple layer of cloud or haze renders these sensors blind. The article notes that MQ-9 Reapers are to be equipped with a Synthetic Aperture Radar system to see through clouds. But even the best SAR imagery is far less detailed than current infrared imagery.