The U.S. armed forces used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during the Vietnam War, when the Teledyne Ryan AGM-34 was deployed for reconnaissance, surveillance, and electronic intelligence-gathering tasks. Since then, ship-- and ground-launched UAVs have taken on more active combat roles, including artillery spotting, target acquisition, and use as decoys to distract the enemy and give manned aircraft a better chance of survival. The U.S. Army Dragon UAV is even capable of jamming enemy tactical radios. Given the threats at every level of warfare, future development no doubt will emphasize UAV suppression of enemy air defense and strike missions, and coverage of areas contaminated by biological and chemical agents.
Unmanned aerial vehicles are not meant to replace manned aircraft at this stage; rather, they are valuable supplements to both air and surface manned systems. Their military and civilian potential is growing rapidly and should be recognized by the agencies responsible for search-and-rescue (SAR) functions-especially the U.S. Coast Guard.
There are six clear advantages to using UAVs in the SAR role: