The U.S. Army has successfully tested a lightweight laser designator for
its RQ-7B Shadow 200 UAV. This enables
the UAV to carry and fire a Hellfire missile, which it recently did
successfully. Technically, the Shadow should not be able to carry a Hellfire, as
the UAV weighs 186 pounds empty (no fuel or sensors), and nearly 350 pounds when taking off with 80
pounds of fuel and up to a hundred pounds of sensors. By carrying less fuel
(and staying in the air for about three hours, instead of six), the Shadow can
carry a vidcam, laser designator and one Hellfire. Since the Shadow has to
operate within 50 kilometers of its base station, and has a cruise speed of 148
kilometers an hour, you can have one standing by, loaded with a Hellfire, if
some other UAV spots a target in need of prompt attention
year, a lightweight satellite communications system was also approved for use
in the RQ-7. This enables control via an operator back in the United States.
These two devices are already used in the much heavier MQ-1 Predators (which
weigh a ton and can carry 450 pounds of sensors and communications equipment.)
The laser designator enables the RQ-7 to designate targets for air force
aircraft carrying the more accurate laser guided bombs.
UAVs are 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). While the RQ-7 is going to be
replaced by the RQ-1C in the next few years, there is an enormous demand for
UAVs just now. So the RQ-7s will be worked hard (they have already flown nearly
400,000 hours), and will probably be heavily used until worn out or lost in
The army and
air force are cooperating on developing and maintaining the Predator
replacement, the slightly larger (1.4 ton), and more capable, MQ-1C Sky
Warrior. The air force will be operating their Sky Warriors from the United
States, using the satellite communication capability, and is trying to convince
the army that this would be they way for them to go.
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
also 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.