Predators Bound for Bosnia
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 1996 Unmanned drones fly overhead, taking pictures, gathering data. They are electronic eyes watching for signs of trouble.
DoD is gearing up for its new, hightech missions. In July, the Air Force activated the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron the first unmanned aerial vehicle unit. Part of the 57th Wing at the Air Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., the squadron is nearly ready for its first mission.
A detachment of about 50 people and three unmanned aerial vehicles called Predators are slated to deploy to Bosnia in March. Predators are spindly legged drones, 27 feet long, with a wingspan of 49 feet. They can fly 500 miles at an altitude of 25,000 feet for more than 24 hours. They relay realtime information via commercial satellite to commanders on the ground.
Predators are not new to the Balkans. Last July, four began flying over Bosnia from a base in Albania. A joint services detachment of military pilots and technicians operated the drones as part of an advanced concept technology demonstration. In August, the BosnianSerbs shot down one Predator, and technicians destroyed another when it developed engine problems and lost power over Bosnia.
These first Predators were not equipped with radar systems allowing them to see through cloud cover, defense officials said. To compensate, operators flew the Predators low, beneath the clouds, making them easier targets. The joint team brought the remaining two Predators back to the United States in late October.
Predators scheduled to go to Bosnia have been improved. They have deicing capability and a radar system allowing them to see through the clouds, according to defense officials.
A joint team of demonstration personnel and Army and Air Force personnel will man the first detachment deployed in March. A second detachment manned entirely by Air Force personnel from the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron is slated to deploy in June.
Air Force Lt. Col. Steven L. Hampton, squadron commander, said the unit will provide the "first and fast" imagery warfighters need. Predator images relayed to combined air operations centers or joint intelligence centers will give commanders the tools to make much more accurate and timely decisions, he said.
"We will give the joint force commander the coverage and flexibility he needs for battle space dominance," Hampton said. "Our goal is to get high quality, nearrealtime intelligence products directly into the hands of those who need them the most."
During a visit to Nellis Jan. 28, Defense Secretary William J. Perry told Air Force officials he launched the unmanned aerial vehicle program when he was undersecretary of defense for research and engineering from 1977 to 1981. At the time, Perry was responsible for all weapon systems' procurement and research and development. He became known as the father of stealth technology.
Perry said during the following years, he remained involved with DoDs technology development. He said he has been frustrated by DoDs delay in acquiring and fielding an unmanned aerial vehicle that fulfills the potential of this technology.
Perry said DoD is now 16 years later on the threshold of getting a good, achievable, unmanned aerial vehicle program under way. This time, Perry said, he intends to ensure the program does not evaporate, but remains fully funded and fully supported.
To date, General Atomics has built eight Predators, including the two lost in Bosnia. DoD plans to build 16 systems, each consisting of three Predators, a spare frame and ground control equipment. By July, the squadron will begin receiving the first of 10 new Predators, each costing $3 million.
Operator training takes eight to 10 weeks, Air Force officials said, and the goal is to have enough trained personnel to support two contingencies by spring 1997. Training will be conducted in Nevada at an auxiliary airfield at Indian Springs and Nellis.