UAVs gaining momentum


An MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft makes its way down an airfield on Camp Taji, Iraq, before a surveillance mission in the Baghdad area. The Gray Eagle is the Army's newest "eyes in the sky," and is being tested by Quick Reaction Capability 1-Reaction 1, the only unit using the aircraft in Iraq. (Photo by Spc. Roland Hale, eCAB, 1st Inf. Div. PAO)

Air Force Army Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are taking significant strides, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army logged more than 1 million flight hours earlier this year, and is growing more comfortable – and capable – with an ever-increasing inventory.

The service is flying the MQ-1C Gray Eagle over Iraqi skies from Camp Taji. Only two deployed Army units fly the Gray Eagle, according to this story. The plan is to field up to 132 Gray Eagles in 11 units at the division level. Operators in Iraq are attached to the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, from Fort Riley, Kan.

The Gray Eagle is one bad bird. While it has a strong reconnaissance and surveillance mission, it also has a payload capacity of more than 1,000 pounds. And much of that payload is Hellfire missiles. Able to fly at 29,000 feet and loiter for more than 30 hours, this baby can reach out and touch someone.

At the Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center in Indiana, soldiers today are learning to operate the Raven in preparation for an Afghanistan deployment. The hand-launched Raven can be carried in a ruck and deployed by two soldiers. It only loiters for about 90 minutes at up to 10,000 feet, but that is enough to give a quick (and easy) ISR read for units on the move.

These UAVs are filling ISR gaps and gaining respect among battlefield commanders. Like it or not (and you should), soldiers can expect to see a lot more effort in this arena in coming years.


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A Navy brat who spent eight years in the Marines (two years aboard the carrier Independence). Worked in journalism in Eastern North Carolina through the latter part of the 90s, then became editor of Air Force Times in 2000. Stayed there five years, then took a break to finish some school. Now back in the game with Navy Times.

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