Warplanes: Army and USAF Share Son of Predator

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March 24, 2006: The U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force are both looking to buy the same new UAV from Predator manufacturer General Atomics. As a result of that joint interest, the two services are looking for ways to save money by combining maintenance and support efforts. What they won't be able to combine are operational aspects, because the two services will operate the new "Warrior" UAV in different ways, to reflect the different objectives of the two services.

General Atomics, the manufacturer of the Predator UAV, is developing a replacement for the army's current long range UAV, the RQ-5 Hunter. The result of this is the new Warrior UAV, which won't enter service until the end of the decade. The army has ordered 121 Warriors (11 squadrons, with 12 UAVs each), at a cost of about $8 million each (including ground equipment). The Warrior will weigh 1.5 tons, carry 300 pounds of sensors internally, and up to 500 pounds of sensors or weapons externally. It will have an endurance of up to 36 hours and a top speed of 270 kilometers an hour. Warrior will have a wingspan 56 feet and be 28 feet long. The Warrior is very similar in weight, size and capability to the Predator. Basically, it's "Predator Lite", and that's why the air force is interested.

But the air force and army use their UAVs differently. For the army, the UAV is a tool for the local combat commander. That's why each combat division will get a Warrior unit. It's likely that combat brigades will also get detachments (of two to four UAVs) as needed (even though the brigades always have several smaller UAVs assigned.) The air force uses Predator and Warrior class UAVs more as strategic recon aircraft. The teams that actually fly the UAVs, and operate the sensors, do so from a base in the United States (via a satellite link). When air force UAVs go overseas, only their handling and maintenance crews accompany them. The army and air force also have different tastes in sensors carried in the UAVs.

The joint Warrior support effort will save both services money, and manpower. The army and air force have been running joint operations ever since the air force broke off from the army in 1947, and the custom doesn't appear to be dying.

 


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