Warplanes: March 29, 2004

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Israel, long a dominant force in UAV design and manufacturing, has been losing ground the last few years as American firms have taken the lead in developing micro (under ten pound) UAVs. Last week, Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) introduced two micro UAVs actually being used by Israeli combat units, and two others that are still being tested. BIRDY weighs three pounds, flies for an hour, up to five kilometers from the user and broadcasts video and still pictures back to a suitably equipped laptop. The laptop is also used to fly the UAV, with the operator simply clicking on map locations where he wants the UAV to fly to. The five pound Spy There UAV operates like BIRDY, but has a ten kilometers range and more powerful sensors. Spy There also requires two troops to operate. BIRDY can be used by one soldier. Both micro-UAVs use battery powered engines. IAI also showed two even smaller, the nine ounce Mosquito, and the 18 ounce Mosquito 1.5. Both have flown 40 minute test flights, but have not completed development yet. While BIRDY and Spy There have been used by Israeli troops (during their field testing), and are being purchased by the Israeli army, the micro UAVs still suffer from one major problem; poor performance in windy conditions. IAI says it has solved some of the wind related problems, but did not release any details. Whatever IAI did to deal with the wind problem should be interesting, because it is the main thing holding back wider use of micro-UAVs. American Special Forces have been energetically using the nine pound Pointer UAV for several years now, and combat commanders are eager to, like the Special Forces, acquire their own air force.

 


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