Sunday, April 01, 2007

The cost of UAVs

Some time ago, I got involved in a debate about the cost of unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs. I argued that the idea that they would supplant piloted aircraft was overambitious, and that, crucially, the high accident rate they experienced would make them rather more expensive than anyone thought. After all, if their biggest advantage was that being unmanned they were expendable, they would be expended - else, what is the point? And expending them means replacing them, and specifically keeping a large stockpile.

According to Wired, 40 per cent of the USAF Predator fleet has been lost since 2003. That is, 53 aircraft out of 139, at $4.5 million each, or $238 million worth.


Anonymous said...

However, the predator is an extreme example as it is big, complex and expensive; there are many other cheaper forms of UAV (although they may not have the attack capability of the Predator).

Is there any reason why they inherently have a higher accident rate? Or is it just that they get sent into harm's way more willingly and thus get shot down more?

Ginger Yellow said...

Yeah, but a single F22 costs half of that total, before you get into pilot training and maintenance and so on. If you're talking about a high value mission, then $4.5m seems pretty cheap. Routine surveillance, possibly not.

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