US Demand for UAVs Rising Due to Unprecedented Capability

Contributor:  IDGA Editorial Staff
Posted:  01/26/2010  12:00:00 AM EST
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Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are bringing "unprecedented" intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability, director of the Army Unmanned Aerial System Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Army Colonel Christopher Carlile, said this month.

His comments are the latest of many recommending the technology, which is one of the fastest-growing fields in the Army.

"There's an old saying that science and science fiction is only separated by timing, and that timing is now. We have it," Carlile stressed.

Although UAVs met with some scepticism when they first emerged in the mid-1990s, they are seen as proven force multipliers that save lives on the battlefield.

Carlile said that Army UAVs have clocked up almost one million flight hours in Iraq and Afganistan and the force is now committed to expanding its programme in order to keep pace with demand for unmanned systems.

UAV Fleet

The Army plans to train more than 2,000 operators of UAVs who will eventually be deployed along with the ground troops they will support, Colonel Carlile revealed.

There are three main forms of UAV used by the Army—the Raven, the Shadow and the Extended Range Multi-Purpose system.

The Raven supports battalions down to platoon level, the 11-foot-long Shadow is designed for use at brigade level and the Extended Range Multi-Purpose, with its 56-foot wingspan, supports division-level operations.

Carlile said that these UAVs help soldiers to track down enemy targets. In the past, troops were forced to find out what was behind a building or around a corner when gunfire or a rocket-propelled grenade came at them. Now, the Raven can be used to conduct this reconnaissance work.

"They can take that and fly it and put it above and see if there is an ambush on the other side of the street, in real time," the colonel said.

"Troops also can determine what the enemy is up to—such as hiding behind civilian shields—to reduce the risk of collateral damage during operations."

Asymmetrical Challenges

Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn III has also highlighted the potential of UAVs in modern warfare.

"Our dominance in conventional warfare has led adversaries to seek new avenues to challenge us," he said.

Improvised Explosive Devices are one of the main tools that the Taliban are using against troops in Afghanistan. However, the US military has been developing new technology to meet these asymmetrical challenges.

UAVs can track and identify insurgent activities, including the placing of roadside bombs.

"Because of a significant investment in intelligence surveillance, surveillance and reconnaissance [capabilities], commanders receive actionable intelligence in minutes rather than in hours," Lynn said.

"Unmanned aircraft now combine surveillance with attack abilities," he added.

It is not just the US Army which is investing in UAVs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in partnership with BAE Systems has completed the first successful test flight of the small, electric-powered Coyote, which is being developed for military use.

The project was initially funded by the US Navy and the 14-pound Coyote, with a 58-inch wingspan, can perform ISR missions as well as having the potential to be used in weather research.

IDGA Editorial Staff Contributor:   IDGA Editorial Staff

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