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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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Not a priority
By James Wood Carter on 6/6/2008 10:11:39 PM , Rating: -1
i think what the US has now is advanced enough ... don't think the US should spend that much on military in its near future, it hsould focus on things like how to solve medicare and such ... and how to get rid of the mounting debt the us has before its too late. Afterall its what funds the military.




RE: Not a priority
By mdogs444 on 6/6/2008 10:35:30 PM , Rating: 3
The shuffling of funds from one need to another is not a way to address the issue. The problem is medicare & military are both needed - but pork barrel projects, huge amounts of foreign aid, a corrupt welfare & social program procedure, and allowing non-citizens to benefit from tax dollars should be addressed first.

The US has risen to power not only by its economic GDP, but also by its military strength. Military spending, when compared with social programs, is hardly is comprable.


RE: Not a priority
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 6/6/2008 11:34:50 PM , Rating: 5
If we decide were "good enough" and cut way down on military spending, it will never go back up until such time that we are getting our asses handed to us against a foreign nation that decided to spend money on their military. By then its too late. So, I'm all for continued pumping of money into excellent projects like this. We need to keep pushing the edge or risk getting caught with our pants down later on.


RE: Not a priority
By Ringold on 6/7/2008 2:18:42 AM , Rating: 4
Exactly. It apparently scared Eisenhower, but he realized we no longer live in an era where a war could break out and a nation had six months, or even years, to raise an army from scratch. We were late to the action in WW1 partly because we had to spool up from almost no standing army to over 4 million men. WW2 we got lucky; Roosevelt might've trashed the constitution and lied to the people, but he prepared us will in advance such that Pearl Harbor was a mere formality, a pre-text for joining the fray.

I would imagine a future war between super powers could be over before we could even fully mobilize a draft and get the first men through basic, much less raise an entire army, navy, and air force. Plus, ships, aircraft and their weapons can take decades, not months, to design.

For example, the CVN-21, the first of our next-generation aircraft carriers, had construction begin last spring in 2007. It won't be done until 2015, assuming all goes well. That is eight years; has any modern war lasted that long?

On top of it all, US military spending as a percentage of GDP is only 3.7%, rebounding off a post-WW2 low of 3.0% set in 1999/2000. In 2005, government spending was about 35% of GDP. That indicates that as much as some people complain, it is but a relatively small piece of a much more vast government pie.

That said, Democrats are correct that in absolute terms spending is at a post WW2 high, but that's a useless measurement. Master Kenobi, in the movie you said it correctly; Only Sith Lords speak in absolutes!


RE: Not a priority
By Googer on 6/7/08, Rating: 0
RE: Not a priority
By FITCamaro on 6/8/2008 9:16:37 AM , Rating: 2
You realize that these are not just Styrofoam airplanes made in China right? You have to pay the engineers who design them, build them, and test them. Then theres the support staff who repair and maintain them.

The company I work for works on the Shadow program. It's not cheap.


RE: Not a priority
By Aloonatic on 6/9/08, Rating: 0
RE: Not a priority
By Reclaimer77 on 6/8/2008 2:27:28 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Spending... only the US government would spend $35,000 on a Styrofoam airplane. Reminds me of the time I got rich selling Uncle Sam $40,000 screwdrivers.....


I guess you missed the part that these flew 45 thousand hours of missions that WOULD have been flown by a human pilot and conventional plane.

So lets see here, 35 thousand weighed against uhhhh how much does it costs to fly 45 thousand hours in a fighter plane with pilot ? Yeah approximately A LOT more.


RE: Not a priority
By Reclaimer77 on 6/8/2008 2:32:18 PM , Rating: 2
Edit : That was 45+ thousand flight hours LAST MONTH.


RE: Not a priority
By onwisconsin on 6/7/2008 8:56:04 PM , Rating: 2
Less soldiers on ground = Less likeliness of fatality.

I'm all for these UAVs. I don't mind spending on defense (read: DEFENSE, not INVADING other countries with no-bid contracts). On the other hand, it is HOW and WHERE and WHY they are being used that I disagree with. We've PO'd enough people 2003 on that we're just digging a deeper hole.


RE: Not a priority
By FITCamaro on 6/8/08, Rating: 0
RE: Not a priority
By bigdawg1988 on 6/8/08, Rating: 0
RE: Not a priority
By Reclaimer77 on 6/9/2008 7:20:48 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
What do you do when those people who can't afford healthcare decide to bash your skull in to get money to pay for their operations?


Actually before government mandated HMO's and health insurance, there was a time EVERYONE could walk into their doctors office and pay cash for a visit. The costs of healthcare have been driven UP by the effort to " help everyone ". You might want to look the facts up.

quote:
What happens to people who happen to lose their jobs because of some idiot CEO?


Uhh you get a new job ? This is America. If you can't make it your just not trying.

quote:
The military-industrial-political complex is alive and well and wasting our money on F-22s when they should have been making more UAVs.


The F-22 is an interceptor fighter/bomber. UAV's are SLOW moving recon and light attack drones. UAV's simply cannot replace the F-22, and calling them a waste of money is ignorant.

quote:
You're either really young, or you just woke up from a 20 year nap.


Look in the mirror please.


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