Warplanes: Army Tries It The Air Force Way


May 4,2008: The U.S. Air Force has managed to install lightweight satellite communications gear in U.S. Army RQ-7 Shadow 200 UAVs. This enables control via an operator back in the United States. This is how the air force operates its MQ-1 Predators (which weigh over a ton and can carry hundreds of pounds of sensors and communications equipment.) The Shadow UAVs weigh only 327 pounds each and can carry 56 pounds of equipment (usually a day or night vision camera and a transmitter). The Shadow 200 is eleven feet long and has a wingspan of 12.75 feet. It can fly as high as 19,000 feet (out of range of small arms). The Shadow has a range of about 50 kilometers and can stay in the air for about six hours.

The army and air force are cooperating on developing and maintaining the Predator replacement, the slightly larger, and more capable, MQ-1C Sky Warrior. The air force will be operating their Sky Warriors from the United States, and is trying to convince the army that this would be they way for them to go.

Keeping the operators back in the U.S. is called "reach back" and is increasingly popular with the military. It's expensive, time consuming, and often dangerous, to send people to a combat zone. Inexpensive satellite communications, and increasing use of computers, has allowed more and more support troops to be left behind. It works, even though it does prevent some face-to-face opportunities. This has not been a problem. And even when it is, the military is increasingly using video conferencing.

The army is developing UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles), and these could be run by stateside operators as well. All this is part of the trend towards increasing automation and remote-control in warfare. Combat has increasingly become a matter of issuing the command; "send in the droids," and leave the people at home.


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