[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[infowar.de] USNWR 19.05.03: The Joystick War
U.S. News & World Report
May 19, 2003
The Joystick War
Run from afar, Predators and other spy gear signal a new era of
By Richard J. Newman
Early in the Iraq war, an unmanned Predator surveillance plane captured
live video of an Iraqi Roland surface-to-air missile on the ground north of
Baghdad. Since the missile threatened U.S. aircraft--and was mobile and
easy to hide--air commanders called for a quick airstrike. They directed a
nearby A-10 warplane to ready its laser-guided bombs, while the Predator
itself prepared to guide those bombs onto the target with its laser
designator. Such "buddy lasing" is a common targeting tactic. But this time
there was one notable difference: The pilot operating the Predator was
sitting in a trailer at an American air base, 7,000 miles away.
Remote-control warfare has finally arrived. While there was much
hand-wringing during the war about whether there were enough U.S. ground
forces in Iraq, air commanders were eager to consign as many duties as
possible to the United States and elsewhere. Last May the Air Force
approved "remote split operations" by Predator units, which allowed about
half of the 15 Predators in the theater to be operated from the United
States--the first time that pilots have "flown" combat sorties without
leaving their home bases. The experiment appears to have
succeeded--U.S.-based Predator operators helped find and destroy hundreds
of targets. Some even fired Hellfire missiles, hung under Predator wings,
at targets on the ground.
Stateside battle. Hundreds of other troops involved in Operation Iraqi
Freedom spent the war back home as well. At Langley Air Force Base in
Virginia, dozens of analysts pored over targeting data and responded to
urgent requests for intelligence from ground troops inside Iraq.
Intelligence experts at other U.S. bases controlled the sensors on U-2 and
Global Hawk spy planes. And the Air Force is preparing for the day when an
entire air operations center, like the one in Saudi Arabia from which the
air war was run, is situated in the United States.
Some troops, of course, will always be needed in the war zone. The Predator
units, for instance, still must deploy crews to maintain the planes and
handle takeoffs and landings in the theater. But once the planes are
airborne, satellite links allow "mission control"--the remote-control
piloting of the aircraft and its cameras--to happen from anywhere.
There are numerous benefits to remote control. The ground stations--nearly
30 interconnected trailers that require 17 sorties on huge C-5 cargo jets
to deploy--can stay put. Another plus "is the flexibility it provides
combatant commanders," says Lt. Col. Stewart Kowall, operations officer for
the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
Predators are in such demand by U.S. forces worldwide that it can only help
to centralize their control. Finally, the control units don't have to
endure long deployments. Commanders still need to enforce wartime
discipline, insists Col. Charlie Lyon, commander of the 57th Operations
Group at Nellis. But "at the end of the work day, you walk back into the
rest of life in America."
For the latest remote operations to be effective, breakthroughs in data
processing and reforms in the sharing of intelligence were essential. In
the recent war with Iraq, less than an hour might elapse between the time
Predator operators in the United States spotted a target and combat pilots
in the theater bombed it. Twelve years ago, during the first Gulf War, it
typically took four hours or more for images to get to intelligence
officers and for them to navigate multiple layers of bureaucracy to send
top-secret data to those who could act.
Enamored as commanders are of unmanned aerial vehicles, however, the future
of the Predator is clouded by funding shortfalls and by disagreements over
whether it should remain an intelligence-gathering tool or become something
more. "Suddenly these are hot commodities and everybody has a mission plan
for the Predator," gripes one intelligence officer. "Let's build a bigger
one, a smaller one, a faster one, one with a bigger bomb bay." One
certainty is a plan to build a version able to carry heavier bombs. That
means the scrappy UAV will play an even bigger role in future wars. "This
is not what we envisioned," admits Lyon, "when [the Predator] started out
as an experimental program."
Mail an infowar -
- infopeace -
de mit "unsubscribe" im Text.