Warplanes: Afghanistan Demands A Different Kind of UAV

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February 8, 2010; Poland is buying eight UAVs from Israeli firm Aerostar. The TUAV (Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is a 210 kg (460 pound) aircraft that has a 50 kg (110 pound) payload, and endurance of up to twelve hours. It can operate up to 200 kilometers from the operator, and at altitudes of up to 5,800 meters (18,000 feet). Four of the TUAV will be sent to work with Polish forces in Afghanistan, while the other four will be retained in Poland for training. Each TUAV costs over $3 million.         

Four years ago, Poland bought $73 million worth of Shadow 200 UAVs from the United States. In the U.S. Army, each RQ-7B Shadow 200 UAV platoon has 22 troops who operate and maintain 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 were 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 down below. 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 are much 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 Poles have been impressed with the Shadow's combat record in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since being introduced seven ago, American Shadows have been used heavily. Polish troops were able to see the Shadow in action in Iraq. Apparently, Poland is buying enough Shadows to equip all of their combat brigades with a platoon of them.

Poland sought the TUAV for Afghanistan because of the need for greater endurance and durability, as well as the ability to operate farther from the operator. The TUAVs cost more than the Shadow 200s, and that's what you pay for. The Shadow 200s are still considered adequate for regular combat units back in Poland.

 

 


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