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“ The USAF acknowledged that Predators kept watch over troops, providing ground commanders up-to-the-minute info what lay ahead. ”

Unnammed aircrafts help keep a new view over the battlefield

US Military Robots Employed in Iraqi War

Date: May 16, 2003
By: AUVSI Staff

Military unmanned systems, including a wide range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a number of currently fielded unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), and perhaps one unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), saw action in the war with Iraq, according to Pentagon and industry officials, informed sources and press reports.

At least eleven types of UAVs were committed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the coalition campaign to topple the regime of Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Observers said the drones for the most part performed well, as did the various UGVs rushed to the Middle East for field duty.

Vehicles involved (external AUVSI links):

  • The All-Purpose Remote Transport Systems (ARTS)
  • Desert Hawk - Lockheed Martin/US Air Force
  • Dragon Eye - AeroVironment/BAI Aerosystems/USA
  • Global Hawk (RQ-4A) - Northrop Grumman/USA
  • Hunter (RQ-5) - TRW/Israel Aircraft Industries
  • Mesa Associates MATILDA Robotic Platform
  • iRobot PACKBOT
  • Phoenix - BAE SYSTEMS/UK
  • Pioneer (RQ-2B) - Pioneer UAV Inc./USA
  • Pointer (FQM-151A) - AeroVironment/USA
  • Predator (MQ-1B) - General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc./USA
  • REMUS - Remote Environmental Monitoring Unit System
  • Shadow 200 (RQ-7A) - AAI Corp/USA
  • Silver Fox
  • Foster-Miller TALON Robot

Combat evolved...

Dyke Weatherington, the deputy for the UAV Planning Task Force, says the U.S. Air Force's Northrop Grumman Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV and the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. Predator medium-altitude UAV were in the fight. U.S. Army units employed the AAI Shadow 200, TRW/AIA Hunter and AeroVironment Pointer over Iraq. And the U.S. Marine Corps deployed the AAI/IAI Pioneer UAV system and the still-in-development Dragon Eye to the region.

The USAF once again turned to the newly developed Force Protection Surveillance System (FPSS), first employed in Afghanistan's Operation Enduring Freedom. The airbase security system -dubbed Desert Hawk- was developed from the small Lockheed Martin SentryOwl UAV.

Weatherington said several other small, unmanned systems supported specialized or clandestine special operations tasks. It is speculated that the Naval Research Laboratory's (NRL) FINDER UAV, which has been flight tested with a chemical/biological sensor, may have been put to work sniffing the air over Iraq.

It was reported that the Predators and Hunters were flown from an airfield near Camp New Jersey, Kuwait. The Dragon Eye, a mini-UAV development of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) and NRL, was operated by the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. USMC Pioneer UAV systems were operated from Camp Coyote in Kuwait until the push began on Baghdad.

Information is scarce regarding Global Hawk's role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but at least one of the four existing HALE UAVs deployed to the region, probably operating from the United Arab Emirates.

Northrop Grumman says Global Hawk performed well in the conflict, but said details about its performance remain classified. "It has been flying in support as much as we can keep them in the air," says the company's Tim Beard. Turnaround time between flights has been as short as eight hours, and missions have lasted in excess of 24 hours. Beard says Global Hawk "flew every single day over the last two to three weeks."

The USAF acknowledged that Predators kept watch over coalition troops racing toward Baghdad, providing ground commanders up-to-the-minute information on what lay ahead. USAF Capt. Traz Trzaskoma, a deployed Predator pilot, says "we immediately pass on any data we gather to the people on the ground who need it, and we provide it around the clock." In one case, intelligence data gather by a Predator caused a special forces team to be diverted from a landing zone at the last minute.

"We've been watching for where the bad guys hide, move or want to hide," he added. "And if we're carrying Hellfire missiles, we can take care of a target ourselves." Case in point. The USAF has disclosed that a MQ-1 Predator found and destroyed a radar-guided anti-aircraft artillery gun in southern Iraq on March 22 making it the first Predator strike of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The drone used one of two AGM-114K Hellfire II laser-guided missiles that it carries to knock out an Iraqi ZSU-23-4 mobile radar-directed anti-aircraft gun outside the Iraqi town of Al Amarah.

The USAF says the Predator fleet employed over Iraq suffered few technical problems, although at least one was lost, probably due to a mechanical malfunction versus ground fire. The Predators assigned to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing are deployed from Nellis AFB, NV.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) quietly deployed a small number of in-development Silver Fox UAVs fabricated by Advanced Ceramics Research (ACR) of Tucson, AZ from an ONR design. Built as a small tactical UAV, the six-foot long Silver Fox weighs 20 pounds and employs detachable four-foot wings and a model plane engine. It can currently achieve an altitude of 1,000-feet after launch from a small compressed air catapult.

Larger than the Dragon Eye mini-drone, the USMC Tier 2 tactical UAV was rushed into the field to improve the reconnaissance capability of Marine units. The current model operates for several hours with off-the-shelf color, black and white and infrared sensors weighing four pounds.

Operated by a laptop computer, it flies autonomously using Global Positioning System (GPS) as one of its navigational systems. Minimal operator training is required, with one ground station able to simultaneously operate ten of the small expendable UAVs.

The Silver Fox was originally developed to keep whales out of harm's way during naval exercises. The firm is working to give the UAV 24-hour endurance, a 1,500-mile range and a maximum altitude of 10,000-feet by 2004. The firm expects each UAV to cost $2,000 in series production.

Previously known as the Smart Warfighter Array of Reconfigurable Modules (SWARM), the UAV is being designed to eventually fly in swarms, cooperatively conducting surveillance and other operations. The U.S. Army is also interested in the UAV system, as are various homeland security agencies. Ultimately, the UAV could be sold commercially for a variety of missions. Including atmospheric research, traffic control, border monitoring, and search-and-rescue.

Meanwhile, industry officials and press reports describe the use of UGVs, including iRobot's Packbot, Mesa Associates' Matilda and Foster-Miller's Talon, to search buildings and handle explosives ordnance disposal (EOD) chores within Iraq.

An undisclosed number of 40-pound Packbots, which were also used to search caves and tunnels in Afghanistan, were deployed to Iraq. According to the Washington Post, "among the siege instruments used was a Packbot, a radio-controlled, tracked reconnaissance robot equipped with a television camera. The operator, Sgt. 1st Class Timothy South, steered the device into rooms of the Agricultural Institute to determine whether Iraqi troops were waiting in ambush."

Arnie Mangolds of Foster Miller says about 18 of the 60 Talon UGVs sold to the U.S. military were shipped to the Middle East. The small, lightweight Talon robot is designed for missions ranging from reconnaissance to weapons delivery. It can accommodate a variety of sensor payloads and is controlled through either a two-way RF or fiber optic line from a portable or wearable Operator Control Unit (OCU) that provides continuous data and video feedback for vehicle positioning.

Don Jones of Mesa Associates says about a dozen of the 50-pound, electric-motor driven, tele-operated, Matilda UGVs were shipped to the theater of operations for undetermined missions. Able to mount various cameras and serve as a micro UAV launch platform, Matilda can also be equipped with a manipulator arm.

Various operational U.S. military de-mining and ordnance disposal UGVs, including the Product Improved Mini-Flail, the All-purpose Remote Transport System (ARTS), the Remote Ordnance Neutralization System (RONS), and the Abrams Panther, were also deployed to Iraq and Kuwait.

Meantime, it is reported that Naval Special Clearance Team One employed the Remote Environmental Measuring Unit (REMUS) mine-hunter. The lightweight, low-cost, autonomous underwater vehicle collects side-scan sonar, bathymetric, and environmental data in littoral waters from the outer edge of the surf zone to regions up to 100 meters deep, to search, detect and classify mine-like objects in shallow and very shallow water. It is small and easily transportable, and can be launched and recovered from a small vessel without a crane.

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