Warplanes: August 8, 2004

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The U.S. Army has six Shadow 200 UAV systems in Iraq. Each system has three or four of the 330 pound UAVs, and one ground control unit. Each Shadow unit is run by a 22 man platoon of troops who operate, maintain and repair the 3-4 UAVs. Ideally, each brigade should have a Shadow 200 system, but theres arent enough to go around just now. Most divisions have only two systems. But the users are very glad to have these UAVs, and the word has gotten back to the Pentagon, where orders for more have been placed. 

The army is getting one new Shadow system a month, plus a steady stream of spare parts to repair equipment damaged in use. Normally, one of the UAVs in each system is set aside to provide a supply of spare parts. The UAVs cost $500,000 each, and can stay in the air 5.5 hours at a time. A day camera and night vision camera is carried on each aircraft. Able to fly as high as 15,000 feet, the Shadow can thus go into hostile territory and stay high enough (over 10,000 feet) to be safe from hostile rifle and machine-gun fire. But in Iraq, most Shadow missions are at a lower altitude, and over a city or town. Brigade and battalion commanders can then get a constant top down view of whats happening down below. Although this sort of thing is technically possible with a commander in a helicopter overhead, the helicopter attracts too much enemy fire to make this practical for any length of time. The Shadow UAV, however, can fly high enough in day time to be safe from enemy fire. A night, the Shadow can come down lower because they are difficult to spot in the dark. 

The ability to run a battle via live video from a UAV has changed the way the army fights. There are fewer surprises, and more successes. The hostile Iraqis on the ground are aware that there is often a UAV up there, but theres not a lot they can do about it. Fighting highly trained American troops is hard enough, doing it while theres always a UAV overhead is often hopeless. But the al Qaeda fighters are on a mission from God, so failure is relative. 


 


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