October 11, 2011: Although Britain has spent a lot of money developing, leasing and buying larger UAVs like Reaper, Hermes and Watchkeeper, the UAVs British troop's use the most in Afghanistan are the tiny Desert Hawk III. This UAV is most frequently found overhead during actual combat operations, in addition to the U.S. Army's favorite, the Raven micro (2 kg/4.3 pound) UAV. Britain began buying the 3.2 kg (7 pound) Desert Hawk mini-UAV four years, for base protection. But the UAV soon proved itself superior for combat operations. Now there are 14 British DH3 (Desert Hawk III) detachments in Helmand province.
A Desert Hawk "detachment" consists of two sergeants and 236 kg (520 pounds) of waterproof carrying cases containing six UAVs, a laptop computer, hand held controllers, communications equipment and a spare parts and repair kit. The DH3 now uses an Xbox like controller, which most troops are already familiar with. The UAV, once the parts are snapped together, has a 1.4 meter (54 inch) wingspan and is 92 cm (36 inches) long. New operators can be trained, on the job, in about a week.
The Desert Hawk has several advantages over the Raven. Desert Hawk is quieter, more stable (because it is heavier and larger) and mounts a camera that can move independently of the aircraft. The British infantry have found these advantages sufficient to select the Desert Hawk III over the Raven. Battery powered, the Desert Hawk can stay in the air for up to 90 minutes, flying a route specified by the operator and using onboard GPS and flight software for guidance. The Desert Hawk III UAV can be equipped with daylight or night (heat imaging) cameras. Everything seen on each flight is recorded, and simultaneously transmitted back to the operator, who views the video on a handheld controller or laptop computer. The UAV cruises at about 80 kilometers an hour and at an altitude of 100-160 meters (300-500 feet). The UAV can operate up to 15 kilometers from its base station. The UAV is launched using a large elastic rope (a bungee cord, basically) and lands by just coming in low and turning off its motor. The Desert Hawk can also be hand launched like the Raven, but a strong arm is required.
The DH3 is made of plastic. The operators do not fly the Desert Hawk, but they can change its flight pattern while it's flying a mission, or command it to just circle a location. An onboard computer handles all the details of flying correctly and not spinning out of control. After one mission, the operator can put in a fresh set of batteries and launch it again.
The DH3 is used for route security (from roadside bombs and ambush), base security and in support of raids and patrols. Captured Taliban are united in their hatred of the DH3, because it makes it difficult to remain hidden, and get away safely from British troops and smart bombs.