Warplanes: July 25, 2005


Despite initial popularity, the U.S. Marine Corps Dragon Eye UAV has been a victim of its own success. The marines found the tiny (5-6 pound) UAV invaluable in combat. The problem was that the system was, literally, rushed into service. The laptop computer, and wearable electronics, used to control the UAV, often failed, and there was no quick way to get them fixed. Then there were the special batteries the UAV used, which were also hard to replace. The elastic chord used to launch the UAV was also prone to breakage. The aircraft itself, made of plastic and the lightest of the micro-UAVs used by American forces, was often damaged when landing (which was done by simply flying the UAV low and slow, and turning the power off, for a crash landing.) The manufacturer said each UAV would be good for about 40 landings, but marines in the field quickly exceeded that, and were exasperated because the beat up UAVs were then falling apart (as predicted). Efforts to get more spare parts, more rugged components and better support, have kept many of the Dragon Eyes flying, but not enough considering how active the marines have been. Nearly a hundred systems have been bought so far (each with three UAVs and one ground controller computer, plus spare parts). Each system costs about $120,000. The marines have used Dragon Eye heavily, and quickly bumped into the systems limits (45-60 minutes in the air per sortie, max range from ground controller of 10 kilometers, lightweight makes UAV unstable in high winds). The troops want a more rugged UAV, that is also lightweight and easy to use and has greater endurance (2-3 hours) and range (20 kilometers). A new and improved UAV has not appeared, and the troops are not happy.


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