Warplanes: May 22, 2004


Nothing like a war to bring out the best in equipment. In this case, it was the U.S. Armys Hunter UAV, a project that never quite came together, and was cancelled in the mid 1990s. But the 61 Hunter UAVs already built were not destroyed, instead they were put in storage, in case there were a need for them in the near future. 

Then came along Balkans peacekeeping, followed by Afghanistan and Iraq. All the Hunters, flaws and all, were taken out of storage and put to work. Better cameras and communications equipment helped, but the Hunter still had less than a third of the endurance of the Predator. So the army recently got a new engine for the Hunter, a more powerful and reliable engine (a Mercedes SMART 800 CDI) and made other improvements to increase reliability. Now the Hunters can stay in the air for about 18 hours per sortie. The Hunters have done 11,000 hours of combat missions so far, but lost a third of their number to weather, accidents and enemy action. 

The remaining 40 Hunters, if they survive, will serve until the end of the decade. Hunters manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, is trying to use its ample combat experience with Hunter to be a contender in creating the Armys ERMP (Extended-Range/Multipurpose) UAV. Even though the original Hunter design was bit of a dud, it had sufficient capabilities to become Predator Lite (it weighs about 20 percent less than the one ton Predator), and gives Northrop Grumman an edge in the race to get the ERMP contract.


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