San Diego Union Tribune

September 8, 2005

Air Force to add unmanned aircraft
2 S.D. companies getting big orders

By Otto Kreisher

WASHINGTON – Although it is still designated a test vehicle, the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft has flown more combat hours over Iraq than any other airplane and was responsible for spotting more than half of the Iraqi air defense facilities hit by U.S. and coalition forces in the Iraq war, Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Winstead said yesterday.

And Predator unmanned air vehicles used their powerful sensors and guided missiles repeatedly in direct support of U.S. ground forces, including Marines who were locked in the battle for Fallujah, Air Force Maj. Larry Gugianous added. "The Marines at Fallujah loved us," Gugianous said.

Because of the major contributions to the operations in Iraq by those UAVs, both developed by San Diego-based firms, the Air Force plans to buy a large number of them and expects other U.S. agencies to buy them for domestic missions such as disaster relief and border security, said Lt. Gen. Donald Hoffman, who is involved with Air Force unmanned aircraft operations.

Hoffman said the Air Force plans to buy 51 Global Hawks, but would like to have more, and intends to buy more than 100 original "A" model Predators and a significant number of the larger, more powerful Predator B.

The Global Hawk, including its support systems, costs roughly $50 million a piece. The Predator comes in at about $17 million, including support systems.

Global Hawk is the largest of the U.S. unmanned aircraft and conducts 30-hour reconnaissance missions at 65,000 feet, providing detailed intelligence information with powerful optical or infrared cameras and radar. It is built by Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems, headquartered in San Diego.

Three test-model Global Hawks have been used in the Iraq-Afghanistan combat zone. Two crashed because of suspected programming errors, but one is on its third tour and has accumulated 4,300 flight hours. Winstead, operations director for the 12th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, which operates the Global Hawk, described a number of missions in which the high-flying spy plane responded to request from ground troops and supplied imagery of suspected enemy positions in their path.

He said the wing is receiving the first production version Global Hawks and will send two to the Iraq-Afghanistan theater next month, allowing expanded operations. Then the unit will receive aircraft it can use to train more crews, Winstead said.

Gugianous, like Winstead a veteran jet pilot who has shifted to the unmanned aircraft, said there are 27 Predators in the Central Command region, flying missions around the clock. The Predator, built by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, can carry two Hellfire guided missiles and can attack enemy targets it finds with its sensors, which are similar to those carried by the Global Hawks.

He described missions in which Marines using a mobile control system, called Rover, directed a Predator to attack an enemy position firing on them in Fallujah. He quoted a Marine commander saying: "You saved Marines' lives and killed America's enemies. It doesn't get any better than that."

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