Warplanes: U.S. Army Halts UAV Development


January14, 2007: The U.S. Army is shelving (not canceling) development of two new UAVs. One was to be a replacement for the 350 pound Shadow 200, and other a replacement for the larger Hunter (which lost out to the Predator in a late 1990s competition). The army is continuing work on a new "Predator Lite" (the Warrior) from the same outfit that makes the Predator. The army will continue development on a new micro-UAV to replace the current Raven (the most widely used UAV in the world, with several thousand in the hands of the troops) and a miniature helicopter type UAV (the Fire Scout) that can, of course, hover. Money is tight, and the army has found that the performance of the Shadow has been quite good. 

In the U.S. Army, each RQ-7B Shadow 200 UAV platoons have 22 troops each and  operate  3-4 UAVs and the ground control equipment. Typically, each combat brigade has one Shadow UAV platoon. The Shadow 200 UAVs cost $500,000 each, and can stay in the air 5.5 hours per sortie. 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.

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 what's happening on the ground. 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 Raven replacement will take advantage of many new technologies now available for light weight UAVs. The army has found, however, that the tech area showing the most rapid advancement have to do with the video cameras. These are getting more capable, lighter and cheaper. So a UAV's capability can be greatly improved just by installing a new camera.