March 31, 2004
Canada has lost four of its French built Sprewer UAVs in Afghanistan so far. The causes have been varied, but the combination of nasty weather (especially unpredictable winds), high altitude (thinner air makes the lightweight UAV harder to maneuver) and dust have created a very hostile environment. Each Sprewer costs two million dollars. Sprewers have also been damaged, and repaired, after of hard landings. Not all of the aircraft were total losses. Because of their light weight, they are usually repairable by the manufacturer. That means the damaged aircraft must be partially disassembled and shipped back to France. The problems the Sprewers are encountering are common with lightweight UAVs operating in a hostile environment.
The Sperwer is an eleven foot long, 575 pound aircraft that is launched via a rocket from a truck. It can stay in the air for four hours using a 65 horsepower engine originally designed for snowmobiles. The aircraft lands using a parachute and airbags. A hundred pound payload is carried, which is usually either a day/night video cam, or a FLIR (a heat sensing "video camera" that can see through the dark and clouds). Cruising speed is 180 kilometers an hour, but max range from the control vehicle is 90 kilometers (because a line-of-sight data link is used.) Despite the losses, the Canadians, like other UAV users, find the ability of the unmanned aircraft to cruise over an area for hours on end a major advantage in a combat zone.