October 17, 2010:
Polish troops in Afghanistan have received four of the eight UAVs bought from Israeli firm Aerostar earlier this year. The TUAV (Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is a 230 kg (506 pound) aircraft that has a 50 kg (110 pound) payload, and endurance of up to twelve hours. It can operate up to 250 kilometers from the operator, and at altitudes of up to 5,800 meters (18,000 feet). Four of the TUAV will stay in Poland for training. Each TUAV costs over $3 million. The TUAV is used by fifteen nations, and is one of several Israeli UAV models (from different manufacturers) used by NATO troops in Afghanistan. While American UAVs are the most in demand, the American manufacturers cannot keep up with the demand, and must give priority to orders for U.S. forces. So Israel, which taught the U.S. how to do UAVs right, is the logical backup supplier.
The TUAV is not the first new UAV Poland has bought. Four years ago, Poland bought $73 million worth of Shadow 200 UAVs from the United States. In the U.S. Army, each RQ-7B Shadow 200 UAV platoon has 22 troops who operate and maintain 3-4 UAVs and the ground control equipment. Typically, each combat brigade has one Shadow UAV platoon. The Shadow 200 UAVs cost $500,000 each, and can stay in the air six hours per sortie. A day camera and night vision camera is carried on each aircraft. Able to fly as high as 6,000 meters (over 15,000 feet), the Shadow can thus go into hostile territory and stay high enough (3,000 meters, or over 10,000 feet) to be safe from hostile rifle and machine-gun fire.
In Iraq, most Shadow missions were at a lower altitude, and over a city or town. Brigade and battalion commanders could then get a constant top down view of what's happening down below. Although this sort of thing is technically possible with a commander in a helicopter overhead, the helicopter attracts too much enemy fire to make this practical for any length of time, and helicopters are much more expensive to operate. The Shadow UAV, however, can fly high enough in day time to be safe from enemy fire, and use zoom equipped vidcams to clearly what is going on down there . A night, the Shadow can come down lower because they are difficult to spot in the dark.
The Poles were impressed with the Shadow's combat record in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since being introduced seven ago, American Shadows have been used heavily. Polish troops were able to see for themselves the Shadow in action in Iraq. Apparently, Poland is buying enough Shadows to equip all of their combat brigades with a platoon of them.
But Poland sought the TUAV for Afghanistan because of the need for greater endurance and durability, as well as the ability to operate farther from the operator. The TUAVs cost more than the Shadow 200s, and that's what you pay for. The Shadow 200s are still considered adequate for regular combat units back in Poland.