Warplanes: Predators Busy Little Brother

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February 10, 2006: While the U.S. Air Force has had great success with its Predator UAVs, the U.S. Army has done even better with its smaller RQ-7B Shadow. The 350 pound UAV can stay in the air for up to 6.7 hours (5 for the "A" model). In nearly three years of use, Shadow's in Iraq have flown some 40,000 hours, and about 10,000 sorties. The Shadow A UAVs have been averaging about a hundred hours in the air each month. The B model does about 120 hours a month. The brigades use the Shadow for everything from assisting offensive operations (including raids), to patrolling roads looking for IEDs, to watching areas where enemy activity is expected.

New Shadows are still being delivered. Right now, each brigade in Iraq will have at least one Shadow platoon (each with four UAVs, two ground control stations, spare parts and support equipment.) But the goal is to replace all the Shadow As with B models, and give each brigade two or more Shadow platoons. So far, over 120 Shadows have been built, and that will reach about 150 by early 2007. The Shadow is much cheaper ($350,000 each) than the Predator ($4.5 million each), and that is because it is much smaller and gets away with much less endurance, because it operates within the area a combat brigade operates in.

Like most current UAVs, there are more problems in the air than with manned aircraft. For the Shadow, that comes to about 26 "mishaps" per thousand flight hours. Most mishaps do not result in the loss of an aircraft, and some do not even require aborting the mission. But that is still a high failure rate for an aircraft. The goal is to get the mishap rate down to under 20 per 100,000 flight hours. That's not expected to happen for another decade. UAVs need a lot more built in smarts (including sensors that can replace what a pilot can see and feel about the aircraft's condition.)

 


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