Air Force Requests More Fighter Drones

March 6th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Air Force Requests More Fighter Drones

USA Today
March 6, 2008
Pg. 6
Aircrafts' success in war zones ups ante on defense budget
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today
WASHINGTON The Air Force wants to bolster the budget for its deadliest drones by more than 60%, reflecting increasing demand for unmanned planes to track and kill insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to documents and a top combat commander.
The Air Force is seeking $540 million for Predator and Reaper aircraft, up from $334 million in 2008. The remotely controlled planes' ability to linger over a target for as long as a day, provide images of insurgent activity to commanders and fire weapons to kill them is changing the nature of combat.
"What we're able to get with our Predators and our Reapers is persistence," said Lt. Gen. Gary North, who runs air combat operations across Africa and parts of Asia, including Afghanistan. "With the Reaper, we get an increased lethality."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has seen the unmanned planes in Iraq and watched them piloted remotely from Nevada, has prodded the Pentagon to field more of them, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
"He has gained an appreciation for what an incredibly effective war-fighting tool they are," Morrell said. "He has made it his personal mission to get the guys in the field as much of this capability as possible."
The Reaper, which flew its first mission Oct. 1, is the most lethal drone. It bristles with guided missiles and bombs similar to those aboard an F-16 jet.
The Predator carries Hellfire missiles. Launched at airfields in Afghanistan, the Reaper is guided remotely by pilots in the USA.
The Reaper travels about twice the speed of the Predator, increasing its value in the vast, tough terrain of Afghanistan. Eventually, North said, he plans to use the bigger, faster drone in Iraq.
So far, the Reaper has attacked 16 targets in Afghanistan, North said, using 500-pound bombs and 110-pound Hellfire missiles. "It is proving to be extremely capable," he said. "It's very, very accurate."
On Feb 24, a Reaper tracked a truck that appeared to be carrying a mortar tube and a team to fire the weapon, North said. When it appeared the insurgents were ready to use the mortar near Kandahar, the Reaper dropped a bomb on them. The same day, a Predator destroyed an insurgent weapons cache with a Hellfire missile, according to Air Force records.
"Unmanned vehicles present a whole new dimension to detecting and destroying of terrorists' cells," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank. "It's almost like having your own little satellite over a terrorist cell."
So far, Reapers have been durable. None has crashed or been shot down, North said. Each of the Air Force's 10 Reaper systems cost $53 million.
The Air Force says the Predator system, which it defines as four planes, ground control stations and satellite link, costs $40 million. It has 102 Predators in its fleet, records show, and had procured 258 through 2007.

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