US Military's UAV Missions Increasing
posted by Paul Fiddian | 06.11.2009
The US military has become increasingly reliant on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, the use of which, according to the Associated Press news agency, has now exceeded 500,000 flying hours.
Such devices - capable of carrying out surveillance, tracking and, occasionally, of killing militants - have been predominantly deployed over Iraq, it adds.
Newly-issued figures by the US Defense Department highlight how, between January 2007 and October 2007, the frequency with which UAVs were sent aloft grew by more than 100 per cent, with the result that a number of pilots were pulled from traditional aerial missions to act as ground-based remote controllers for the devices.
The new report intimates that such a marked increase in the UAVs' development and deployment precedes what is anticipated to be a still greater use of them over the coming quarter-of-a-century.
Increased use of UAVs Over Iraq Occurred Alongside Bush's Troop Surge
The heightened utilisation of UAVs over Iraq occured alongside the President Bush-ordered US troop surge that acted to swell the military presence in the area. However, according to officials at the Pentagon, although 2008 will see a gradual troop pullback effort implemented, the reverse is likely for UAVs - which include designs such as the Global Hawk, Predator, Raven and Shadow.
"I think right now the demand for the capability that the unmanned system provides is only increasing," said Army Aviation's Deputy Director Colonel Bob Quackenbush, adding: "Even as the surge ends, I suspect the deployment of the unmanned systems will not go down, particularly for larger systems."
For certain pilots within the USAF, that means a shift from conventional airborne missions to sites such as Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base, where Predators are remotely operated from. In recent times, approximately 120 pilots were re-engaged in this way in order to meet demand, according to the USAF.
The greater number of operations being carried out across Iraq in summer 2007 sparked more extensive use of these (pilotless) drones and a need for additional examples to join them.
USAF Video Showed Militants Killed by Predator UAV
In a depiction of the potential of the UAV, the USAF recently issued video footage of a Predator, which picked up on a trio of militants firing upon US troops. A missile subsequently launched by the Predator killed all three.
Predators themselves, according to officials in the USAF, were clocking up approximately 2,300 more flying hours per month in October 2007 than eight months earlier. Neither the values for November nor December have yet been calculated, but are expected to show a continuance in the trend.
US Army UAVs Could Achieve 300,000 Flying Hours in 2008
The Global Hawk, which specialises in high-tech reconnaissance and surveillance, has also been more widely used. However, the majority of the time aloft has been carried out by the Raven. Launched by hand, the Raven weighs a mere four pounds, and it is used by the US Army for surveillance purposes. Col. Quackenbush anticipates that Ravens will accumulate around 300,000 flying hours in 2008 - twice what they achieved last year.
Ravens form part of the US Army's 361-strong UAV contingent deployed in Iraq, which also includes Hunters and Shadows. Between January and October 2007, they notched up over 300,000 hours aloft.
US Military UAVs Flew 258,000 Airborne Hours Between 2006/07
Excluding Ravens, the usage of UAVs across the US military network as a whole leapt to 258,000 hours between September 2006 and September 2007. The Pentagon-gathered statistics are inclusive of training flights but, in the main, are in respect of military operations.
Iraq dominates, but Afghanistan, too, has seen increased UAV usage.
A newly-issued report by the Pentagon details plans by the US Defense Department for the development of "increasingly sophisticated force of unmanned systems" over the coming quarter-of-a-century. Within this, present limitations, such as the speed and precision with which UAVs carry out their missions, will be addressed.