By Simon Dunstan

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The impressive technology gains and operational systems were shelved. Defense budgets shrank after the Vietnam War, and new UASs were either not developed to completion or were visible programmatic failures. The forerunners to today’s medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) and high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) UAS classes were first attempted in this period. The MALE Compass Dwell program saw Martin Marietta and E-Systems develop unmanned variants of Scweitzer gliders and motorgliders. Boeing and Teledyne Ryan developed jet-powered HALE UA for the Compass Cope program.

The Chukar served as a decoy, supporting the air campaign. The star of the war was the Pioneer, which operated off of battleships for artillery spotting and surveillance. The total number of UASs, the sortie rate, and total flight hours were very small relative to recent campaigns, but the operational benefits were clear. The systems employed were the product of 1980s development programs or acquisition of modified Israeli systems. DARPA sponsored the Boeing Condor program in the late 1980s. This 200-ft span HALE UAS attained a maximum altitude of 67,000 ft and a maximum endurance of 59 hrs.

The size and performance capabilities were roughly equivalent to the currently fielded Shadow 200. The program was cancelled in 1987, representing the nadir of the period. Up until this point unmanned aircraft were called remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs), but the name changed to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) after the Aquila program. The negative program outcome has been widely studied, and a major culprit was that system requirements were not compatible with available technologies. While the United States was struggling with diminished budgets in the 1970s and floundering programs in the 1980s, Israel was honing highly effective UAS designs and exploring new concepts of operations.

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