Intelligence: August 5, 2001


Armies say they practice how they would deal with gathering intelligence in wartime, and maybe they do. But the experience in the Balkans has demonstrated that one should never underestimate the unexpected. One of the sources of the unexpected has been the use of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.) These little aircraft are controlled from the ground, or simply programmed to fly a search pattern and come home. They cost anywhere from a few hundred thousand to a few million dollars each. Occasionally they are lost in action, usually because some component (engine, electronics, Etc.) fails in flight. Recently, an American UAV was lost in Kosovo. There was a communications problem, so the UAV was ordered to shut down and a deploy a bright orange parachute and land. There was no way to find it with a built in beacon, because of the electronic problem. There wasn't enough manpower available to beat the bushes for it, so a decision was made to offer a reward over local radio stations for the UAVs return. Oops, it seems the UAV went down in the German sector. After some bureaucratic burlesque with the Germans over who could do what, the Germans had the local radio stations offer a $45 reward (100 Deutchmarks) for the UAVs return. No response at first, and there ensued a debate over whether a photo or detailed description of the UAV should be released. The fact that the UAV was not top secret and pictures of it had appeared in the media eventually shut down that discussion. Then there was a lot of angst about releasing the ID number painted on the UAV. How this info would impact NATO security in the Balkans was never fully explained. Then someone realized that a radio announcer broadcast the fact that the UAV was worth over a million dollars (true) and contained "advanced technology" (not true.) Now everyone got nervous about some crafty Kosovar peasant finding the UAV in his cabbage patch and taking it to the nearest gang of Albanian gangsters to explore export options (China?, Iraq?). And the problem still remained with the Germans, who went about finding the UAV as they felt best, not as the Americans wanted. Before the Intel pukes achieved a mass mental breakdown, the UAV was found. But this was not the end of the UAV adventures, as the coordination problem between the NATO allies in Kosovo was still not solved. This was driven home shortly thereafter when a French UAV, flying a predetermined search pattern, just missed a helicopter carrying several American generals. The French saw no need to let the Americans know that a French UAV was going to over fly the American sector. After all, isn't it common knowledge that UAVs have the right of way?


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