Predator Demonstrates Worth Over Kosovo
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 21, 1999 No matter where Serb forces moved in Kosovo, they were under the eye of NATO forces.
Pilots sitting in ground control vans hundreds of miles away kept cameras and other sensing devices trained on Serb forces through use of the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle.
NATO and U.S. Air Force officials called the UAV one of the "stars" of Operation Allied Force.
Predators collected intelligence, searched for targets and kept cameras aimed at Kosovar-Albanian refugees. The aircraft helped planners assess battle damage and sort out the chaos of the battlefield.
The UAV flew over areas deemed too hot for manned aircraft. The almost constant surveillance provided by the aircraft forced Serb forces into hiding. If the Serbs moved from their positions, they were spotted and reported.
If regular acquisition processes had been followed this battlefield star would have been nowhere near Kosovo. But, thanks to the advanced concept technology demonstration program, it did fly over Yugoslavia.
This was not the first time the Predator -- also known as the Medium Altitude Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle -- has been deployed. The aircraft aided U.S. forces entering Bosnia even before it had finished the demonstration phase.
The process allowed the Predator to be deployed to the Balkans less than 19 months after the program started in 1996. Normally, a new system takes 11 years to reach the field.
The advanced concept technology demonstration allows researchers to find and exploit technologies to solve important military problems.
During the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. military used UAVs for surveillance.
In 1995, the Predator demonstration program began. The Predator has a wingspan of 48 feet, a length of 26 feet and weighs about 1,500 pounds when fully fueled. It flies around 90 miles per hour. Each costs about $3.2 million.
The Predator can stay in the air for 40 hours, loitering over dangerous areas. It sends back video images of what it is observing. Users, literally around the world, can view these images. Air Forces officials are working on ways to uplink the Predator information to manned attack aircraft.
Pilots fly the aircraft from vans at their base. The air vehicle operators are all rated pilots who flew C-141 Starlifters, KC-135 tankers, B-52 bombers, U-2s or AWACS aircraft. The pilots flying the Predator remotely use controls found in a normal cockpit. One problem the controllers mention is the limited field of view.
DoD officials will use the information they have gained from the Predator to build the next generation of UAVs. The possibility for fighter and bomber roles is also being explored. "We need to continue to take and hold 'the high ground,'" said Air Force Lt. Col. Marty Meyer, a military assistant with DoD's Advanced Technology office.
Next up is the $10 million jet-powered Global Hawk. Made by Teledyne Ryan, Global Hawk will be bigger and fly higher and faster than the Predator. Global Hawk will fly for 40- hours and will have a 3,000-mile range and 65,000-foot ceiling. In a July 6 memo, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said DoD must aggressively push the requirements and acquisition process for Global Hawk.
"We are at a critical juncture in airborne reconnaissance," Cohen wrote in the memo. "Forty years ago we were at a similar crossroads and committed to the development of our nation's successful high-altitude manned aircraft. Technology has moved forward at an amazing pace, and the demand for information has increased even more quickly.
"The opportunity is here to develop, acquire and integrate unmanned airborne reconnaissance capabilities into the force structure at a rapid, but prudent, rate."