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The Raven is each launched by hand by soldiers on the ground. It is small and lightweight, made out styrofoam, though it has a tough kevlar skin.  (Source: Newsweek/Xaquin G.V.)

The UAVs, including the Raven coordinate Apache strikes -- in this case on a car.  (Source: Newsweek/Xaquin G.V)
Against a civilian enemy that can strike anywhere UAVs are rewriting the book on reconnaissance and military strikes by offering a view of the battlefield at all times.

Every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, dozens Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVS) hover in the skies stalking their enemy.  Some simply snap pictures; others carry out far more deadly missions.  But cumulatively they are opening a new high tech chapter in the way America wages war.

Duke of Wellington, conqueror of Napoleon at Waterloo and a savvy tactician once noted, "The whole art of war consists of getting at what is on the other side of the hill."

However, the changing face of war is not merely in defeating the enemy -- it’s also in minimizing civilian casualties. Lt. Col. Scott Williams leads a group of Apache helicopters which blow up buildings or "service targets" in military speak with Hellfire missiles. 

Last week in Sadr City, one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq, insurgents fired rockets at the U.S. protected Green Zone.  A UAV spotted the rocket militia in an apartment block.  Williams’ team moved in for the kill.  Then, the UAV spotted children running into and out of the building, playing. 

The strike was called off, and the children who would likely have been killed were safe.  The Apaches instead rained fire down on the rocket launch site that the militia had mostly deserted, killing a few remaining members.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars consist largely of raiding insurgent houses and tracking armed militias.  UAVs, including the ultra-small model airplane size Raven, are invaluable in finding the enemy, checking for civilians in the line of fire, and assessing the enemy's combat readiness.  The Army is even using the drones to look for disturbed Earth to detect Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), a leading cause of war casualties.  Hundreds of the drones are patrolling Iraq at any given time.  Last month alone, the fleet of drones logged 46,450 hours.

GPS and satellite imagery also offer valuable battlefield information, but can only get so close. The UAVs can do an unprecedented level of tracking, including in locations too dangerous to send soldiers.  Some of the drones such as the Predator can send images as far as Germany or Nevada for expert analysis.  And commanders are realizing their utility; Lt. Col. Paul V. Marnon, a battalion commander for the 3CAB and Apache commander states, "We can see into an alleyway, see teams organizing an attack."

The UAV revolution has occurred in the last five years.  When the devices were first deployed in Iraq at the start of the invasion, they were scoffed at as toys.  Now, Marnon says 90 percent of his teams' kills are assisted by UAVs. 

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is frustrated that the U.S. can't deploy UAVs fast enough.  Said Gates in a recent speech, "I've been wrestling for months to get more intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets into the theater. Because people were stuck in the old ways of doing things, it's been like pulling teeth."

With his commanders frantically requesting UAV support, Gates pushed through a $240 million boost in spending on reconnaissance surveillance craft.  This will include manned fly overs by civilian contractors as a stop-gap measure.

The UAVs have been around for a long time and are just now starting to earn their dues.  In the past, manned aircraft always stole the attention and funding.  The drone was born at the Van Nuys plant of the Radioplane Co. in the U.S.  The plant in 1944 developed radio controlled drones for surveillance.  From there the drones were sullied into a number of unglamorous purposes including target practice and as decoys.

In 1960, a Japanese-American put a camera on the drones.  After the U2 spy plane crash and the Cuban missile crisis, the government finally took notice.  Ryan-Teledyne deployed over 1,000 of its Firebee drones to Vietnam, taking pictures and jamming radar.  After the war, though, the drones program took a nose dive. 

The Army launched a massive program to develop an advanced drone known as Aquila, but in the end the incredibly expensive device was so loaded it could hardly fly and regularly crashed.  The drones cost $3 million each and the total program totaled to $1 billion.

The Israelis developed cheaper, lighter drones known as the Pioneer which helped in the first Gulf War.  An enemy unit even surrendered to the drone, a first.  However, the drones were too noisy and warned the enemy of their approach. 

When trying to design more efficient models, former CIA commander Jim Woosley approached the Air Force and they told him it would cost $500 million and six years.  He found instead a brilliant Israel Expert formerly working for the Pentagon named Abe Karem, who offered to design his drone in 6 months for only $5 million.

The resulting drone was incredibly useful and won quick support.  Named the Gnat, it shot impressive video.  Soon a modified version, the Predator was equipped with missiles, adding assault to its repertoire.  Many improvements helped to save the Predator from possibly being a dud.  GPS was added. The Hellfire missile, previously made to shoot up over trees, was modified to shoot down, and had a sheathing added which scattered into razor blades, killing enemies and optimally destroying unarmored vehicles.  On November 5, 2003, one of the modified missiles hit an SUV filled with Al Qaeda operatives, leaving the vehicle's oil pan as the only identifiable remains.

Now a new heavier duty, lesser-known model known as the Reaper, is on duty in Iraq.  It has four Hellfire missiles aboard and two 500-lb bombs.  The various armed drones are piloted remotely from Nevada and California, allowing pilots to live normal civilian lives and stay at home with their families when the work day is done -- after killing some terrorists.  Many of the smaller drones, which make up much of the 1,500 drones in Iraq and Afghanistan, are piloted by Marines and soldiers on the battlefront, though.

The drones are battery powered and made of Styrofoam protected in a Kevlar coat.  They weigh only 5 lbs and cost only $35,000 to produce.  They can easily be launched with a flick of the wrist, just like the average model plane.  Special certification is needed to fly larger craft; Sgt. Chris Hermann, 24, is among those certified and he flies them from a padded chair safe in a U.S. military base in the Green Zone.  He states, "Yeah, middle of the desert, aircon and a padded seat, there are worse jobs in Iraq.  We all joke about it.  A monkey can do this job, this bird flies itself, it lands itself."

On bad weather days, Hermann and his buddies stay inside and play Battlefield 2, Call of Duty 4 or The Underground.  He says the drone is like an Atari game -- really basic.  The drones have been invaluable in coordinating airstrikes.  Insurgents have learned to fear the buzz of the drones, which can't always be heard until they're nearby.  Unfortunately, the drones have also led to airstrikes that have killed civilians.  In a sort of grimly ironic jest, Iraqi mothers now warn their children, "Obey or the 'buzz' will come after you."

With more drones and better technology, though, the armed forces are working to reduce civilian casualties.  However, many remain skeptical about efforts such as Northrop-Grumman's $635 million contract to build an unmanned X-47B bomber for the Navy.  And with upcoming debate over fully autonomous killing war robots, both in the sky and on the ground that should be technically feasible within a couple decades, the issue is sure to remain.

However, whether you support or oppose them, the UAVs have had an undeniable effect on the war.  And largely they have helped to give the U.S. soldiers an edge over a shadowy civilian army that would otherwise have them at a disadvantage.

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I don't trust these things
By sh3rules on 6/6/2008 10:00:18 PM , Rating: -1
What’s to prevent anyone from hacking into these things and rendering them useless, or worse yet, using them to attack the attacker? I guess there’s hope as long as they’re not fully automated and making decisions on their own.

RE: I don't trust these things
By CSMR on 6/6/2008 10:09:42 PM , Rating: 2
A password?

RE: I don't trust these things
By Tsuwamono on 6/6/2008 10:41:14 PM , Rating: 3
thats why its called hacking.

RE: I don't trust these things
By Hare on 6/7/2008 2:47:11 AM , Rating: 3
1) Type
2) Press ctrl-L-O-L
3) Look at the blinking skulls and the numbers being counted down. The beeps become louder as the timer goes down.
4) Look at the fullscreen blinking green text "access granted"
5) Do what you want. Btw, you also gained access to the FBI mainframe.

Isn't this how it's done? I've seen it been done on TV so it must be true. ;)

RE: I don't trust these things
By feraltoad on 6/8/2008 12:18:46 AM , Rating: 2
It wasn't all that easy. I also had to very quickly type garbage in a command window with green text, as you know green is very important (stay away from red!), for thirty seconds and say stuff like, "I'm putting in a back door" before I could say, "Alright, I'm in. It's peanutbutter jelly time".

RE: I don't trust these things
By Duwelon on 6/8/2008 12:54:02 PM , Rating: 2
Ugh, Swordfish flashbacks, corniest crap of a movie i've ever seen!

RE: I don't trust these things
By Cogman on 6/6/2008 10:42:58 PM , Rating: 5
Watching too many comics are we? Despite what TV might claim, hacking into something ISN'T easy, or even possible in a lot of circumstances. How could the army prevent it? RSA 256, a password that is changed regularly, and a non standard (Maybe even modulating) radio transmission frequency. And probably many other encryption/security measures the general public won't know for the next 10-20 years.

But, please, join the media sensationalism of "Hacking" and keep contributing to peoples misinformation of what hacking really is.

RE: I don't trust these things
By Ringold on 6/7/2008 1:02:15 AM , Rating: 2
Battlestar Galactica provides a much more likely scenario than "hacking"; an inside job.

If you don't think its possible to have such a spy, then I'd say you hadn't read quite enough news over the last couple years. I think it was Investors Business Daily I read about spies last, but they reported that the number of spies providing foreign governments with information due to ideological motivations rather than money was surging. The number was actually disconcerting; proof that even though the Cold War is long past that old school espionage is still alive and well.

I even recall seeing on CNN a report not long ago, they even showed a picture of some foreign agent handing cold, hard cash to a DoD official in return for information.

My hope would be that one individual wouldn't have access to all the information necessary to pull off such a feat, or that even if they did that encryption changing on the fly or something would still provide a potent defense even if they knew how it worked, but I wouldn't say it's not possible, not for a foreign government with people on the inside and vast resources to bring to bare.

RE: I don't trust these things
By MrPickins on 6/7/2008 11:27:22 AM , Rating: 2
Don't believe everything you hear on TV. Much of it is fear mongering.

RE: I don't trust these things
By Ringold on 6/7/2008 4:18:39 PM , Rating: 2
Trailer trash working at Los Alamos had access to nuclear weapons data and was taking it home to scan it; fact. China and other nations are engaging in espionage inside our defense industry and military; fact. The number of spies forking over data to foreign enemies over ideological reasons is up, not down; fact.

This data is all verifiable with Google, and a lot of it is an entertaining read. Particularly the trailer trash articles. I don't get my news from The Daily Show. I was simply pointing out that contrary to the position of the person I was replying to, it wouldn't be at all impossible.

RE: I don't trust these things
By jRaskell on 6/9/2008 12:56:25 PM , Rating: 2
While Google is an excellent source for gathering information, it is NOT, in any way whatsoever, an adequate tool for verifying actual fact. Such a tool doesn't even exist, and if it did it would have absolutely nothing at all to do with the Internet, because the real act of verifying information to be fact or not is incredibly difficult, and anybody spouting off so many generic statements as explicitly factual frankly has no clue.

RE: I don't trust these things
By JonnyDough on 6/9/2008 11:16:13 PM , Rating: 2
Fear mongering? You mean propaganda? Take the Iraq invasion/occupation, for example. There's a reason we lose money to things like insurance, ridiculous taxation, and bad investments.

It's because we believe and trust the media. In other countries (like China) it is known that the media is chock full of crap. Why we Americans trust our government/media so much I'll never know. It's this other little lie we've been fed, called democracy. Simply put, it no longer exists. Sure, it might have at one time. Back when there were a mere 13 colonies. But how much say do we actually have now? I've heard people get on here and say "you can vote" or, "lobby", "write your congressman" and I just have to think, "wow." The last time a congressman actually read a letter from a civilian was...hmm.

RE: I don't trust these things
By Strunf on 6/7/2008 12:18:04 PM , Rating: 2
It may not be easy but it isnt impossible... the single fact that many gouvernement agencies have been hacked in a way or another is good enough to show that it can be done.

10-20 ? All the depends on the computing power, you build a couple quantum computers and that time would be greatly reduced... also you don't need to forcefully break the code, you can analyze it's pattern and get the same result in far less time, that is unless you find a backdoor and it becomes even easier.

RE: I don't trust these things
By FITCamaro on 6/8/2008 8:56:07 AM , Rating: 2
Yes because you can go on newegg and pick up those parts for a quantum computer.

The quantum computers that exist today aren't even factly verified to be quantum computers. Sure we have terms like q-bit out there now but really, they don't work like they do in the movies.

RE: I don't trust these things
By Polynikes on 6/8/2008 1:11:16 PM , Rating: 2
As far as I know, insurgents haven't figured out how to crack our basic radio encryption, so I'm pretty sure our UAVs' comm encryption is safe.

By 457R4LDR34DKN07 on 6/8/2008 11:45:58 PM , Rating: 2
Well you could if you knew how, Sierra II encryption... good luck

RE: I don't trust these things
By jvillaro on 6/7/2008 5:17:21 PM , Rating: 2
Yes they will be hacked by the super cyborg ninja monkeys we saw here a few days back.
Beware and collect a lot of bananas so we can negociate!!!

RE: I don't trust these things
By Reclaimer77 on 6/7/2008 5:47:20 PM , Rating: 2
You can't hack these things.

Can't. Its a waste of time even discussing your fears about them.

RE: I don't trust these things
By JonnyDough on 6/9/2008 11:19:59 PM , Rating: 2
It's not the hacking that makes me afraid of these drones. It's the fact that someone else may get them. They can build their own, we're not the only country in the world with advanced technology anymore. Furthermore, I fear my own government. I have been online, I really don't trust the way others think sometimes. We're so willing to go to war, or to kill people in other countries from our living rooms, all it takes is that complacency to turn itself inward on it's own people with a little doubt. I think the divorce rate here in America could be a symbol of how we fail to trust each other. Don't be mad at me for not trusting anyone, it's the fault of this social platform I was raised on.

RE: I don't trust these things
By retrospooty on 6/7/2008 8:17:04 PM , Rating: 3
"What’s to prevent anyone from hacking into these things and rendering them useless, or worse yet, using them to attack the attacker?"

Norton "Military Edition"

RE: I don't trust these things
By Duwelon on 6/9/2008 11:20:24 PM , Rating: 2

RE: I don't trust these things
By Icelight on 6/11/2008 9:20:16 AM , Rating: 2
They'd be dropping from the sky by the dozen were that the case, or at least taking three times as long to finish take-off preparations.

RE: I don't trust these things
By Mousekill on 7/1/2008 12:27:26 PM , Rating: 1
I guess it is a possibility, but these are pretty sophisticated gizmos. It seems like there are much easier and cheaper ways to deliver much more bad stuff, like a U-Haul or a used car.

"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton
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