June 19, 2012:
Poland plans to spend $300 million over the next six years to buy as many as 200 more UAVs. This is the continuation of a trend. Over the last six years Poland has already purchased over a hundred American and Israeli UAVs.
This began in 2006, with a large purchase of American RQ-7B Shadow 200 UAVs. Each Shadow weighs 159 kg (350 pound) and costs $500,000. It can stay in the air up to eight hours per sortie. A day camera and night vision camera is carried on each aircraft. Able to fly as high as 4,900 meters (15,000 feet) the Shadow can go into hostile territory and stay high enough (over 3,200 meters/10,000 feet) to be safe from hostile rifle and machine-gun fire. The Shadow UAVs can carry 25.5 kg (56 pounds) of equipment, is 3.5 meters/11 feet long, and has a wingspan of 4.1 meters/12.75 feet. The Shadow has a range of about 50 kilometers.
Two years ago Poland bought over a dozen ScanEagle UAVs. Each of these weighs 18 kg (40 pounds), has a ten foot (three meter) wingspan, and can stay in the air for up to 15 hours per flight and fly as high as 5,200 meters (16,000 feet). The aircraft carries an optical system that is stabilized to keep the cameras focused on an object while the UAV moves. The UAV can operate at least a hundred kilometers from the controller. The ScanEagle is launched from a catapult and landed via a wing hook that catches a rope hanging from a fifty foot pole. This makes it possible to operate the UAV from the helicopter pad on the stern (rear) of a warship. Each ScanEagle costs about $100,000.
Poland also bought eight TUAV UAVs from the Israeli firm Aerostar. The TUAV (Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is a 210 kg (460 pound) aircraft that has a 50 kg (110 pound) payload and endurance of up to twelve hours. It can operate up to 200 kilometers from the operator and at altitudes of up to 5,800 meters (18,000 feet). Four of the TUAV were sent to work with Polish forces in Afghanistan, while the other four were retained in Poland for training. Each TUAV costs over $3 million.
Poland also bought the smaller Israeli Orbiter 2 UAV for its troops in Afghanistan. An Orbiter 2 UAV weighs 9.5 kg (21 pounds) and its battery powered motor can keep it in the air for about three hours per sortie. Maximum altitude is 3,200 meters and top speed is 120 kilometers an hour. Since the UAV can't operate more than 80 kilometers from the controller top speed is rarely needed. The Orbiter is launched by a catapult. It lands via parachute, is waterproof, and floats. One of the three UAVs each system has can then be launched while the other has its battery replaced and the parachute repacked and be ready for another sortie in under ten minutes. The day/night vidcam transmits video back to the handheld controller, where the images can be stored.
The Poles were impressed with how useful their various UAVs were in Afghanistan and are determined to make their aircraft the core of their tactical reconnaissance capabilities.