June 25, 2006:
In Iraq, the best protection a convoy can have, is air cover. While the people in the lead vehicles can scan the road ahead, and often detect roadside bombs or ambushes, a helicopter or UAV overhead sees patterns and objects, that people on the ground miss. A helicopter is preferred, because the field of vision on a UAV camera is narrow, and usually only one person is viewing it. This UAV operator is typically in a vehicle in the rear of the convoy, which is usually moving along at about 100 kilometers an hour. This means the operator has to examine about 28 meters of road, both sides, per second. That's much easier for two helicopter pilots to do. To help the UAV operators, there's been an effort to move the digital video feed through a pattern processor. Intelligence organizations in Iraq have been collecting massive amounts of data on IED (roadside bomb) appearance and positioning, so a little pattern matching magic could work. Eventually. This sort of thing also requires lots of computer power. Perhaps more than you can get out of a laptop in the back of a truck. A solution for that would be a wireless link to a larger computer somewhere else. But these battlefield Internet connections are still a work in progress, especially for moving vehicles. All this stuff is getting closer to reality because of the war. Just how close is, for obvious reasons, a secret. At the moment, there are more IEDs than ever, but more than ever are being neutralized.
But there's another advantage of having UAVs over a convoy. The enemy can usually see it, and that often discourages the IED detonation team from setting their bombs off. With an IED around, they are more likely to be spotted, then caught or killed. Much better to let this convoy get past, and wait for one without a UAV.