The U.S. Marine Corps is acquiring
the RQ-7B Shadow 200 UAV, which has been used by the U.S. Army for the last
five years. Each Shadow platoon has 22 troops and operates 3-4 of the 350 pound
UAVs with one set of 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 for up to 5.5 hours per sortie (the actual average is about
four hours). 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, and is a lot more expensive to operate. 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 marines have been using the 450 pound Pioneer
UAVs since the 1980s. These older aircraft are of Israeli design, and did the
job. But the Shadows are a more recent design, are easier to maintain, and are
more reliable. The Shadows can stay in the air about 20 percent longer, and are
a bit better in most other performance characteristics. The marines will equip two recon squadrons
with four UAVs each, plus ground control and maintenance equipment.