The war in Afghanistan is, first, a war for information. Spy satellites can take pictures and produce detailed maps, as well as picking up any radio messages the Taliban are trying to send. But this isn't enough. The only targets left after three days of fighting are the Taliban army. These move around in trucks on dusty roads. They then dig in, or bring up their few artillery pieces and attack Northern Alliance positions. When operating like this, the Taliban are good targets for U.S. warplanes equipped with smart bombs. There are already Special Forces operating with the Northern Alliance, and if the U.S. aircraft can't spot the Taliban, you need recon aircraft up there for hours at time to see when the Taliban units leave the safety of populated areas or caves to move. To fill this need, the U.S. has a number of unmanned, long endurance, reconnaissance aircraft. These include;
@ GNAT-750 Lofty View: In use since 1989. The GNAT can stay in the air for up to 48 hours and has a range of 800 kilometers. This aircraft is 16.4 feet long with a 35.3-foot wingspan.
@ Hunter UAV was an unsuccessful predecessor of the Predator. The Hunter system had a lot of operational and software problems. The military stopped buying them in 1996. It's is 23 feet long with a 29 foot wingspan.
@ RQ-1 Predator: Built to replace the GNAT, it can operate in any weather and stay up for 40 hours. It can bounce its data off satellites and provide near real time video. The RW-1 carries two color video cameras and is 26.7 feet long with a wingspan of 48.2 feet.
@ RQ-2 Pioneer: Built for use off warships and was first used in 1986. Saw service in the Persian Gulf war, where it flew over 300 missions. Used for spotting targets, and reconnaissance for ground troops. To be replaced eventually by the Navy's Tactical UAV system. RQ-2 is 9.6 feet long with a wingspan of 17.1 feet
@ Shadow 600: This is an upgraded RQ-2 which can fly longer (up to 14 hours) and can carry 17 different sensors. Widely used during the Gulf War, flying over 700 hours. It is 15.4 feet long with a 22.4 foot wingspan.
@ RQ-4A Global Hawk: Still in development, but several are available for service. RQ-4A is jet powered, high altitude, very long range aircraft. Global Hawk carries a variety of different recon equipment, including cameras, infrared sensors and radar. Can stay in the air for as long as four days at an altitude of 66,000 feet. Also can carry jamming equipment and electronic countermeasures to defeat SAM attacks. Global Hawk can be programmed to fly an entire mission, from takeoff to landing, without any human assistance. It has crossed the Pacific to Australia, performed a recon mission, and landed all by itself. It is a large aircraft, 44.4 feet long with a wingspan of 116.2 feet.