The Effects of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Command and Control Latency during Within-Visual-Range Air-To-Air Combat


The type of military missions conducted by remotely piloted aircraft continues to expand into all facets of operations including air-to-air combat. While future within-visual-range air-to-air combat will be piloted by artificial intelligence, remotely piloted aircraft will likely first see combat. The purpose of this study was to quantify the effect of latency on one-versus-one, within-visual-range air-to-air combat success during both high-speed and low-speed engagements. The research employed a repeated-measures experimental design to test the various hypothesis associated with command and control latency. Participants experienced in air-to-air combat were subjected to various latency inputs during one-versus-one simulated combat using a virtual-reality simulator and scored on the combat success of each engagement. This research was pursued in coordination with the Air Force Research Laboratory and the United States Air Force Warfare Center.

The dependent variable, combat score, was derived through post-simulation analysis and scored for each engagement. The independent variables included the input control latency (time) and the starting velocity of the engagement (high-speed and low-speed). The input latency included six different delays (0.0, 0.25, 0.50, 0.75, 1.0, and 1.25 seconds) between pilot input and simulator response. Each latency was repeated for a high-speed and low-speed engagement. A two-way repeated-measures analysis of variance was used to determine whether there was a statistically significant difference in means between the various treatments on combat success and determine if there was an interaction between latency and fight speed.

The results indicated that there was a statistically significant difference between combat success at the various latency levels and engagement velocity. There was a significant interaction effect between latency and engagement speed, indicating that the outcome was dependent on both variables. As the latency increased, a significant decrease in combat success occurred, decreasing from .539 with no latency, to .133 at 1.250 seconds of latency during high-speed combat. During low-speed combat, the combat success decreased from .659 with no latency, to .189 at 1.250 seconds of latency. The largest incremental decrease occurred between 1.00 and 1.25 seconds of latency for high-speed and between 0.75 and 1.00 at low-speed. The overall decrease in combat success during a high-speed engagement was less than during the low-speed engagements.

The results of this study quantified the decrease in combat success during within-visual range air-to-air combat and concluded that, when latency is encountered, a high-speed (two-circle) engagement is desired to minimize adverse latency effects. The research informs aircraft and communication designers of the decrease in expected combat success caused by latency. This simulation configuration can be utilized for future research leading to methods and tactics to decrease the effects of latency.


Ph.D. In Aviation Program, Dissertation, Remotely Piloted Aircraft, Simulation, Air-To-Air Combat



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