Air Force Times – 2007-09-16 23:51:17
(September 15, 2007) — When Army scouts in Iraq spotted two men planting a roadside bomb Sept. 1, they called in a nearby Hunter unmanned aircraft, which dropped a laser-guided bomb and killed the two men.
“We had the first confirmed use of an Army weaponized UAV,” said Col. Don Hazelwood, project manager for Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
The Army is mounting precision-guided weapons on hundreds of unmanned aerial vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hazelwood said.
The MQ-5B Hunter will carry the laser-guided GBU-44/B Viper Strike, a 42-pound glide bomb with a one-yard wingspan that can strike within one meter of its aim point.
The Army intends to increase the number of Viper Strike bombs it intends to buy, but declined to give specific numbers, said Tim Owings, the Army’s deputy project manager for UAVs.
AGM-114 Hellfire missiles are going on the Warrior AlphaUAV, a prototype version of the MQ-1C Warrior Extended-Range Multi-purpose UAV to be ready by 2009. Eventually, the Warrior may also carry Viper Strikes.
Both UAV types will carry laser designators that can be used to guide munitions dropped from UAVs or manned aircraft, said Owings.
He said the Army has a human in the loop who decides when to fire a UAV’s weapons.
“The ground control stations are like a cockpit which does not need to be in the aircraft. The video goes into the brigade TOC [tactical operations center], so the same rules of engagement that any of our pilots would follow is followed by our pilots in the TOC,” Owings said.
The number of UAVs in combat is rising, from about 1,000 last year to 1,350 expected by the end of this year. Flight hours have soared from 60,000 last year to 140,000 so far this year, Hazelwood said.
The number of video terminals that display live imagery beamed from UAVs has jumped to 1,000, up from 200 six months ago, he said. They are installed in Stryker vehicles on their way to Iraq, and should be in Apache cockpits by next summer, said Kim Henry, a spokeswoman at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
“These terminals receive video from any of our platforms. You can see where you are located and see what UAV operators are seeing as well. Now the Apache pilot is able to see before he gets to a target,” Owings said.
The terminals allow soldiers to see around corners, over hills and buildings, and into neighboring areas during combat, said one senior Army leader who recently returned from Iraq.
He said more surveillance, communications and reconnaissance technologies are changing things.
“Now all of our [avionics and sensor] payloads are digital, and that has opened up a whole new bunch of capability,” Hazelwood said.
UAVs beam voice communications to convoys as far as 100 kilometers away, Hazelwood said.
The Hunter has been improved several times since it made the combat debut for Army UAVs in Kosovo in 1999. The latest model, the 1,940-pound, $2 million MQ-5B, has a bigger fuel tank so it can fly for 21 hours at altitudes up to 15,000 ft, diesel engines, and a modern avionics suite.
“Now we have an EOIR [electro-optical infrared] sensor on a ball sitting below the middle of the airplane, that allows soldiers to identify things with great clarity from a great distance away,” said Northrop Grumman engineer Mike Howell.
“Right now, they are at 53,000 hours of operation, 20,000 hours of combat in OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom]. They are easy to maintain and they stay in the air,” said David Apt, a spokesman for Northrop Grumman Technical Services.
The Army is upgrading its A-model Hunters to the B specification, said Henry, who declined to say how many of each type the Army owns.
The Army plans to buy 132 MQ-1C Warriors in the first batch, taking delivery of the first prototype in December and beginning testing in May. Initial production is scheduled for July, with delivery of operational Warriors to the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, Ky., in August 2009, the senior Army official said.
The Warrior, which will fly 36-hour missions at altitudes up to 25,000 feet, will carry an 800-pound payload, which includes four Hellfire missiles, Hazelwood said.
“We like the Hellfire, but we don’t like using it downtown or in built-up areas. It can blow out windows. We are there to not disrupt the population and we are very sensitive to it, so we have to be very sensitive to the munitions we use,” Hazelwood said. “The Viper Strike can still take out the same type of targets but does not have the same explosive effects.”
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