View Full Version : More spy planes give U.S. ‘edge’ in Afghan mission

07-14-2009, 10:24 AM
More spy planes give U.S. ‘edge’ in Afghan mission

By Tom Vanden Brook - USA TODAY
Posted : Tuesday Jul 14, 2009 6:46:33 EDT

U.S. forces in Afghanistan are relying more than ever on surveillance aircraft as they seek out insurgents, from cutting-edge drone technology to the venerable U-2 spy plane, according to interviews and information released at USA Today’s request.

These aircraft, military officials said, are being used heavily during Operation Khanjar (or “Strike of the Sword”), the Marine-led offensive in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

The military’s need to identify insurgents and reduce civilian casualties is driving its increased reliance on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has pressed for more flights by manned spy planes and unmanned drones, with live video feeds, so servicemembers can better see and identify their opponents.

“If I have persistent ISR which can stare for a significant period of time at a specific area and watch patterns of life, movement and those kinds of things, I’m going to have a much better intel in terms of my combat action,” Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a recent interview.

Airborne intelligence “gives us an edge in being able to monitor activities,” said Col. George Amland, deputy commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, now fighting in Helmand.

Air Force Col. Daniel Johnson, commander of the 480th ISR Wing, said aircraft in Helmand send information to ground troops via electronic messaging and voice communication.

Military missions now use more planes and a wider variety of them than two years ago. Spy plane sorties in Afghanistan and Iraq are on pace to set a record this year, Air Force data show. Through June, 8,400 such missions had been flown. As recently as 2006, there were almost 7,500 such flights for the entire year.

Johnson said Air Force missions track insurgents with Reaper and Predator drones, intercepting communications with venerable U-2 spy planes and following insurgents with E-8C JSTARS and RC-135 aircraft.

“ISR has never been more important than it is today — and that importance will only increase for the foreseeable future,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The additional Air Force spy planes have helped in Afghanistan but only as an ingredient to the new strategy that includes more U.S. troops, better Afghan security forces and improved local government, said John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security.

Mullen agrees. Spy aircraft, while “incredibly important,” are not a panacea, he said.

He pointed to an airstrike in western Afghanistan on May 4 that U.S. investigators say killed as many as 30 civilians.

Although troops had a “great view” of the battle, they had problems with training and equipment that led them to bomb a building filled with civilians, Mullen said.

07-14-2009, 04:25 PM
Drones are another information gathering tool that is extremely vital today and in the future. Machines are only as good as those who operate them.

07-14-2009, 04:39 PM
Drones are another information gathering tool that is extremely vital today and in the future. Machines are only as good as those who operate them.

here's your point made for ya

Report says UAV crashes were contractor error

By Bruce Rolfsen - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Jul 13, 2009 19:25:00 EDT

Contractor maintenance mistakes led to the crash of two remote-controlled airplanes in recent months, according to Air Combat Command reports issued Monday. The crashes cost the service about $7.6 million.

Air Force pilots and maintainers weren’t faulted in either investigation.

On March 20, an RQ-9 Reaper crashed on the Army’s Fort Irwin in south California after the engine lost power. An accident investigation board concluded that an incorrectly assembled oil temperature control valve led to the engine failure. AMOT Inc, a firm specializing in geared motor products, manufactured the valve, the report said.

In Iraq on Oct. 19, an MQ-1 Predator crashed near Ali Air Base. An accident investigation board found that a propeller bearing’s failure led to the pilot losing control of the Predator. The bearing failed because maintainers from Battlespace Flight Services who repair the Predators at Ali incorrectly installed the bearing.


07-14-2009, 04:56 PM
Man though, it's not that 7.6m in damages is chump change but imagine if those were manned u2s. How much longer until full stealth uav technology to use against radar ridden hotzones like say Iran. I know satellites are extremely helpful these days but I bet it's much more difficult for a nation to defend against a pesky stealth uav. God thoughts of thousands of unmanned combat drones in action just scares the shit out of me.

07-14-2009, 04:59 PM
Thanks Bob. Cruel I would rather a bot be destroyed than to see another soldier dead due to maintanece issues.

07-14-2009, 05:06 PM

The X-45C unmanned combat air vehicle, a concept aircraft based on the current X-45A, is designed to meet both the Air Force’s evolving need for greater range and loiter capability and the Navy’s requirements for potential carrier suitability and other Navy-unique needs. The X-45C will also have a larger payload capability, including the ability to carry two 2,000-pound joint direct attack munitions. Operational missions for the X-45C may include suppression of enemy air defenses; strike; electronic attack; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

As the small UCAV aircraft were being demonstrated for the first time, the tactical environment was changing. In Operation Enduring Freedom, both the Air Force and the Navy experienced very long transit times associated with air combat in a remote region. Crews found themselves flying thousands of miles just to get to the combat zone. In addition, the Defense Department was becoming ever more aware of the hazards of anti-access threats – those enemy capabilities which might prevent the establishment of either land- or sea-based tactical units in a threatened region. One result was evolution of the Air Force UCAV design to provide more range and persistence in the battle space.

The UCAV ("uninhabited combat air vehicle") is a robot strike aircraft intended to deal with well-defended targets.

Boeing's X-45A is a stealthy tail-less aircraft, with composite outer structures and an aluminum internal structure, though a production UCAV would be mostly made of composites. It has a midbody-mounted wing with a straight leading edge and a sawtooth trailing edge.

The X-45A is powered by an Allied-Signal F124 turbofan with a rectangular thrust-vectoring exhaust that swivels in the horizontal plane, helping to compensate for the aircraft's lack of a tail assembly. The engine is mounted in the center of the fuselage. An operational design may have a different engine.

The X-45A has two weapons bays and can in principle carry up to 1,350 kilograms (3,000 pounds) of stores. However, in practice, one of the weapons bays will be used to store a pallet of flight test systems. The other weapons bay will be used to carry test stores, such as a single 450 kilogram (1,000 pound) Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) GPS-guided bomb, or a "multipurpose bomb rack" to allow it to carry a wide range of smaller munitions, such as six 113 kilogram (250 pound) bombs, MALDs, and Low-Cost Autonomous Attack System (LOCAAS) mini-cruise missiles. The rack will allow reloading the X-45A with a new set of munitions in about a half hour.

The first demonstrator has been built to a "Block 1" standard, with a UHF control link and an L-band telemetry link. The second demonstrator scheduled for first flight in late 2001, will be built to a "Block 2" standard, with an added UHF satellite communications link and a "Link 16" fighter data link.

Boeing has implemented a ground control system for the X-45A based on a Silicon Graphics computer with conventional keyboard-mouse input and two displays. One of the displays gives images from a video camera in the demonstrator's nose, while the other provides aircraft status and control information. Much of the software for the X-45A has been "recycled" from other projects.

A container has been designed for the X-45A, and the UCAV's wings can be easily removed and refitted for storage and transport. The container has dimensions of about 4.6 by 1.8 by 6.1 meters (15 by 6 by 20 feet) and is built from fiberglass, with a honeycomb core. The container has several interface ports to allow maintenance checks to be performed on the stored vehicles, or to download flight plans. The current idea is that 50 to 100 UCAVs will be stored at a depot, with all the containers hooked up to a central computing station to monitor their state.

A Lockheed C-5 airlifter will be able to carry twelve such UCAV containers, while a Boeing C-17 airlifter would be able to carry six. The UCAV will have a twenty-year shelf life, one of the more unusual parameters for a combat aircraft design by traditional standards, with removal for tests every five years.

FROM Boeing.

07-14-2009, 06:05 PM
Just wet myself Bob

07-14-2009, 06:08 PM
Yup here's the X-45 in flight

07-14-2009, 06:08 PM
This one is extremely cool looking by Northrop X-47 Pegasus

07-14-2009, 06:10 PM
Boeing X-45C

07-14-2009, 06:11 PM
Stealth UAV Design the PoleCat by Lockheed Martin- not much info on it

07-14-2009, 06:14 PM
Great info and pics, guys.

07-14-2009, 07:36 PM
I'm not positive but I believe the Boeing /Northrop one I can't remember which one will be ordered into production as soon as it completes aircraft carrier trials and evaluation. the Boeing one has already flown autonomous missions over 600 miles long and dropped ordinance without any input form controllers although they can take control at any time if needed

07-14-2009, 07:57 PM