Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) remain a reliable staple in
the U.S. Military's winged arsenal. The use of remote drones not only puts less
expensive machinery in the air, but it also takes American pilots out of harm's
According to the Associated
Press, the Air Force's use of UAVs doubled between the months of
January and October. During that same time period, the Air Force’s use of the
Predator drone increased from 2,000 hours per month to 4,300 hours per month.
The Army also saw its UAV usage increase during the past
year. The Army's 361 unmanned Ravens, Shadows and Hunters combined for a total
of over 300,000 hours of service through the first ten months of 2007. The
Raven, the Army's air surveillance workhorse, is expected to rack up more than
300,000 hours of flying time during 2008 alone -- more than double the figure
"I think right now the demand for the capability that
the unmanned system provides is only increasing," remarked Army Col. Bob
Quackenbush, deputy director for Army Aviation. "Even as the surge ends, I
suspect the deployment of the unmanned systems will not go down, particularly
for larger systems."
"The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department's
ability to provide (these) assets," added Air Force Lt. Col. Larry
Gurgainous of the Air Force's unmanned aircraft task force. "And as we buy
and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up."
UAVs saw extensive action in both Afghanistan and Iraq during
2007. A Hunter MQ-5B/C UAV dropped
a bomb on two suspected enemy insurgents in early September. The Hunter
MQ-5B/C has the ability to loiter in the air for 15 hours and can carry up to
260 pounds of ammunition.
Boeing also gave UAVs a boost with the announcement of the High
Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAV. The HALE uses a hydrogen-based Duratec
23 four-cylinder engine to power the aircraft to 65,000 feet and stay aloft for
up to one week.