U.A.V. Drones Eye War-Zones
Predator and Hunter UAVs provide real-time 'eyes' on Serbian targets
By Dan Dubno
February 27, 2002
(CBS) In a secret control room in the Pentagon, high-ranking planners of the air war over Kosovo are seeing images of battle-damage on the ground in real-time. To reduce risking pilots for reconnaissance over the heavily defended Yugoslavian airspace, these warrior chiefs watch live video and infrared feeds from Predator and Hunter unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as UAV's.
Drones like these carry a variety of powerful cameras, sensors, and in some cases, laser targeting devices. Piloted remotely, using GPS guidance devices, some UAV's travel hundreds of miles over enemy airspace in a single mission. But even the UAV aircraft have a difficult time flying in bad weather so these NATO-controlled aircraft are frequently grounded.
UAV's have become increasingly important in the coordination of NATO raids to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and provide instantaneous information to pilots and ground controllers. Even America's high-powered spy-satellites cannot provide enough real-time coverage of a battlefield. Since 1995, the Predator, medium-altitude endurance UAV, has been flying over Bosnia airspace to assist NATO peacekeeping operations. Even recently "shelved" programs, like the Hunter, have been dusted off to provide this desperately needed reconnaissance.
Israel's successful use of drones to monitor military movements and combat terrorists in Southern Lebanon impressed U.S. Defense Department in the 1980s. Israel and TRW teamed up in 1988 to produce the Hunter for the U.S. Army. More than 50 UAVs were made before this relatively short-range (about 260-km) UAV program was officially terminated in 1996. The Predator, made by General Atomics, can hover for over 24-hours with a range in excess of 3,500 km. Operating at altitudes up to 26,000 feet, the Predator carries a variety of sensors, including synthetic aperture radar (SAR) which gives it 'all weather' visual capability. In the future, a much larger UAV, the Global Hawk, will be deployed with an even longer on-station time at higher altitudes.
Meanwhile, other troops needed smaller, and easier to deploy vehicles. The Marines for example, have deployed the Exdrone, (also known as the Dragon) manufactured using inexpensive "off-the-shelf" parts by BAI Aerosystems. At their private landing strip in Easton, Maryland, BAI President Richard Bernstein kindly demonstrated this Exdrone craft. Despite the high cross winds, the Exdrone blasted off its mobile launcher and flew around BAI's island compound, handling high-flying acrobatics with ease. Despite an elegant landing, the wooden propeller was damaged , but these are designed to be easily and frequently replaced. In their factory, we were shown the hand-launched Javelin UAV, which can be used in smaller troop exercises and, maybe one day, perhaps by journalists covering such conflicts. All of these unmanned aircraft have two people controlling them on the ground: the pilot controlling the craft must be licensed by the FAA while a video operator controls the video "eyes" of the UAV's cameras.
Perhaps the most exciting development in this unmanned world is research into
the MAV (or "Micro Aerial Vehicle.") The Defense Department's DARPA is exploring
ultra-compact designs, unique winged flying systems, and innovative communications
technologies which offer the possibility of radically redefining the future battlespace.
For more information go to The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International [ http://www.auvsi.org ]