Skip to comments.Small aircraft take on some of the biggest missions
Posted on 06/07/2006 5:24:26 PM PDT by SandRat
6/7/2006 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Patrolling the sky over Iraq for more than 2,250 hours in May, the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron here leads the largest unmanned aerial vehicle operation in the world with one of the Air Forces smallest aircraft -- the MQ-1 Predator.
Providing real-time eyes-in-the-sky, the squadron of about 20 aircraft is often the critical link between ground commanders and what is around the next corner in combat.
Were the largest game in town and an integral part of just about every large joint operation in Iraq, said Capt. Fred Atwater, 46th ERS commander.
Predators often work closely with ground forces. Flying more than 130 missions in May, they patrolled convoy routes, supported ground force raids and flew as aerial sentries to deter attacks on infrastructure and people.
Were the most requested asset in theater, Captain Atwater said. Our aircraft fly for 20 to 22 hours straight without refueling. We can provide a commander with full-motion video of the battlefield and an armed presence that stays overhead, on station, throughout his mission.
Able to carry two Hellfire missiles, the Predators not only hunt insurgents throughout the country, they also defend the squadrons home at Balad AB. By working closely with Army quick reaction forces, Captain Atwaters unit patrols the bases perimeter.
Its all about the guys on the ground, said Senior Airman Kyle Bridges, Predator sensor operator deployed from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. We try to make the mission as effective as possible so we can best serve the troops who are fighting in combat. We get info into the hands of the warfighters."
Sensor operators have an intelligence background so they know which pictures can best help their customers, said Airman Bridges, who has been trained as an imagery analyst.
Tracking anti-Iraqi forces night and day, the Predator teams locate and follow the enemys movements and see where they hide. When the time is right, they strike, sometimes with missiles, other times with a simple beam of light.
From overhead, we can put a pinpoint of light on an individual who is trying to ambush or hide from our troops, Captain Atwater said. You cant really see this marker unless youve got on night-vision goggles. Weve worked with the Army this way and have captured hundreds of individuals who otherwise wouldnt have been seen.
Because the 20-hour Predator missions provide persistent stare, or long looks at ground operations and targets, the reconnaissance squadron has increased the reliability of aerial intelligence and helped coalition forces avoid collateral damage. Also, because the aircrafts cockpit is located on the ground and protected on base, no aircrew lives are at risk.
Everybody loves the Predator, the captain said. Predator footage is used to brief the secretary of defense, the secretary of the Air Force, and even the president.
But the most rewarding missions are the ones where you escort a group of soldiers on a foot patrol. You weave them through hostile terrain and get them home safely, Captain Atwater said.
UAV Eyes in the Iraqi Skies
Does the Navy operate UAV's? I know the Air Force would get all gritty and hard to load over it, but carrier borne UAV's could easily fly over places land based birds would have trouble getting to.
Yes the USN has several solely dedicated UAV - (with more coming)-
Currently being trialled for its maritime capabilities by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) in "Trial Vigilant Viper" off the coast of Scotland, the ScanEagle completed ten autonomous flights with full launch and recovery from a Type 23 Frigate in rough sea conditions.
I thought operating on a carrier in heavy seas was hairy. I can't imagine what it would be like on a frigate. At least the pilots won't be in any more danger than the rest of the crew.
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