UAV technology includes smaller, quieter, and more dangerous unmanned vehicles able to engage enemies from a distance

Unmanned aircraft are racking up even more flying time in missions across Iraq and Afghanistan, with UAV technology hardware and software development increasing at a rapid pace.

The Pentagon is under more pressure to wrangle out-of-control military spending after years of costly wars -- and that has led to new innovations aimed at lower-cost UAV technology that is still fully capable.  Private contractors are scurrying to manufacture these smaller, cheaper, yet still reliable unmanned aircraft as quickly as possible -- billions of U.S. federal dollars are at stake in 2011 and the coming years.  

Some new projects include smaller and cheaper UAVs and munitions that are quieter and able to engage targets at a more rapid pace.  The new generation of military technologies range from a 13-lb. smartbomb to a ground-fired mini-cruise missile able to scout out targets to engage.  Handheld UAVs also have been effective, even as single-use 

Defense contractors and U.S. military leaders continue to share information -- and resources -- to ensure the U.S. remains at the top in UAV development.

UAV operators are skilled pilots that expertly maneuver the unmanned aircraft to monitor and attack suspected targets.  It's a skill that the pilots focus on to help assist ground troops looking to conduct missions after airstrikes take out specific targets.  UAVs also frequent the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where U.S. military officials believe insurgents are able to sneak in fighters and supplies.  This area is extremely difficult to patrol on foot, so UAV flight time greatly assists future missions.  

The U.S. Air Force has an interactive website focused on UAVs, including a brief video demo, and then visitors are given the chance to play a virtual UAV game.

Initially used for reconnaissance and as a quieter means to track the enemy from above, UAVs quickly evolved with live munitions and GPS-guided laser bombs able to hit specific targets.  The flight times, munitions carried, flight capabilities, and other major adjustments are being made to future generations of UAVs.  

The popularity of UAVs has led to a number of countries ordering and sharing technologies with one another.  The French Defense Ministry and Germany are interested in sharing technology with the United States and Israel -- the No. 2 manufacturer of UAVs following the U.S. -- as money and future weapon exchanges are agreed upon.

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