Electronic Weapons: Starlite, Starlite, Show Me What You See Tonight

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February 14, 2010:  The U.S. Army has received its first production models of the AN/ZPY-1 Starlite lightweight radar. This system weighs 65 pounds (29.5 kg), occupies 34 cc (1.2 cubic feet),  uses 750 watts of power and costs about $2.3 million each. The Starlite was designed for use in the army's new 1.5 ton MQ-1C Sky Warrior UAV. Starlite can deliver photo quality black and white images of what is down there, in any weather. The army has developed software that enables the Starlite images to be transmitted to existing army video terminals, and automatically appear on electronic versions of standard army maps. Starlite is used in combination with vidcams and heat sensors (infrared or thermal). The army will receive at least 33 Starlites in the next two years.

The MQ-1Cs are slightly larger Predators, and are being used for missions formerly performed by Shadow 200, and other large army UAVs. The big difference is that Sky Warrior can carry weapons (like Hellfire missiles), and can stay in the air for much longer. While the U.S. Air Force Predators perform more strategic missions, the Sky Warrior is all about supporting a specific brigade, and taking orders from the commander of that brigade.

Three years ago, the army quietly bought twenty Predator type UAVs (called Sky Warrior Alpha) from the same firm that manufactures the Predator and Sky Warrior. These UAVs were sent to Iraq, and spent most of their time doing counter-IED work with Task Force Odin. The one ton Sky Warrior Alpha can carry 450 pounds of sensors and 300 pounds of weapons, including Hellfire missiles. Sky Warrior Alpha is, officially, the I-Gnat ER, which is based on a predecessor design of the Predator, the Gnat-750, and an improved model, the I-Gnat (which has been in use since 1989). The I-Gnat ER/ Sky Warrior Alpha looks like a Predator, but isn't. In terms of design and capabilities, they are cousins. The Sky Warrior Alpha can also carry Starlite.

The MQ-1C Sky Warrior, which weighs 1.5 tons, carries 300 pounds of sensors internally, and up to 500 pounds of sensors or weapons externally. It has an endurance of up to 36 hours and a top speed of 270 kilometers an hour. Sky Warrior has a wingspan 56 feet and is 28 feet long. The Sky Warrior can land and take off automatically, and carry four Hellfire missiles (compared to two on the Predator). The first Sky Warriors entered service last year, and the army is in the process of forming eleven Sky Warrior squadrons, each with twelve UAVs and five ground stations.

The original MQ-1 Predator is a one ton aircraft that is 27 feet long with a wingspan of 49 feet. It has two hard points, which usually carry one (107 pound) Hellfire each. Each hard point can also carry a Stinger air-to-air missile. Max speed of the Predator is 215 kilometers an hour, max cruising speed is 160 kilometers an hour. Max altitude is 25,000 feet. Typical sorties are 12-20 hours each.   A Sky Warrior company has 115 troops, 12 Sky Warrior UAVs and five ground stations.

As its model number (MQ-1C) indicates, Sky Warrior is a Predator (MQ-1) model. At one point, the U.S. Air Force considered replacing its MQ-1s with MQ-1Cs, but ultimately decided to drop Predator and move on to the larger Reaper.

The new air force MQ-9 Reaper is a 4.7 ton, 36 foot long aircraft with a 66 foot wingspan that looks like the MQ-1. It has six hard points, and can carry 1,500 pounds of weapons. These include Hellfire missiles (up to eight), two Sidewinder or two AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, two Maverick missiles, or two 500 pound smart bombs (laser or GPS guided.) Max speed is 400 kilometers an hour, and max endurance is 15 hours. The Reaper is considered a combat aircraft, to replace F-16s or A-10s, as well as Predators.

 


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