Attrition: Invincible UAVs


May 14,2008: Two U.S. Gnat UAVs recently set an unusual record; each completed 10,000 hours in the air. The predecessor of the Predator, the Gnat-750, and an improved model, the I-Gnat, have been in use since 1989. The Gnat can stay in the air for up to 48 hours and has a range of 800 kilometers from its base.

General Atomics, the developer and manufacturer of the Gnat and Predator UAV, has upgraded the Gnat, and created the I-Gnat (Improved Gnat.) The older Gnat 750 was developed in the late 1980s, and looks like the Predator. In fact, the Predator was developed as a slightly larger (49 foot wingspan compared to 35 for the Gnat, and 42 feet for the I-Gnat) aircraft. Although it is 20 percent lighter than the Predator, the I-Gnat has a payload of 650 pounds (compared to 143 pounds for the Gnat 750 and 450 pounds for the Predator), and can stay in the air for up to 50 hours (20 percent more endurance than the Predator). The I-Gnat also takes advantage of ever lighter and more reliable electronics. The Predator and I-Gnat actually use the same engine, and many mechanical and electronic components. The I-Gnat also comes with five attachment devices ("hard points", two under each wing and one under the fuselage) for weapons or equipment. Hellfire missiles, which have been used from a Predator, weigh 100 pounds each. Three I-Gnats, which are operated by the U.S. Army,were sent toIraq in 2004, and several have been serving there ever since.

Most Predator UAVs are lost to enemy fire or accidents after only a few thousand hours in the air. The I-Gnat's long career may be due, in part, tooperating at higher altitudes (above bad weather, as well as hostile fire.) Operating the I-Gnat provided the army with the practical experience it needed to develop the Sky Warrior (which is a slightly larger Predator that the air force will use as well.)


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