View Full Version : 5-foot-long plane to run recon missions for Marines

04-28-04, 06:17 AM
5-foot-long plane to run recon missions for Marines

By Dave Moniz, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON In an effort to pinpoint concealed guerrilla fighters and attackers threatening U.S. convoys, the Navy will begin shipping a new portable surveillance drone to Marine units in Iraq next month.
The 5-foot-long propeller-driven airplane, called Silver Fox, sends live pictures of the battlefield to troops on the ground.

The tiny craft, the size of some model airplanes, can be launched using a catapult or by throwing it into the air. It is carried in a container that resembles a large golf bag.

A high-ranking Navy official familiar with the Silver Fox program described the plane and its planned use at a briefing for reporters last week. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Silver Fox has been in development for just over a year. The Pentagon tested prototypes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The gas-powered plane is operated by a laptop computer and can fly up to 10 miles ahead of troops.

When it is flying above 1,000 feet, it is difficult to see or hear, according to the briefing.

"This is a great idea, a simple technology that we can quickly field," says Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a research group in Arlington, Va.

"For the grunt on the ground, these airplanes will allow troops to look around corners and in places where no human being should go without first knowing what is there," Thompson says.

Pilotless surveillance aircraft, known in military parlance as UAVs unmanned aerial vehicles have been used in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Air Force operates a fleet of much larger unmanned surveillance planes, including the propeller-driven Predator and jet-powered Global Hawk.

The 26-foot Predator, widely used since Sept. 11, can stay aloft for up to 40 hours and beam live pictures to commanders.

The Pentagon and CIA recently equipped the Predator with missiles and have in several cases targeted terrorists remotely.

There are not enough Predators to outfit every military unit in Iraq and Afghanistan, creating a need for smaller, cheaper, more portable surveillance aircraft.

Military officials see the Silver Fox and other small drones as a way to provide increased surveillance at low cost.

The Silver Fox, if proved effective on the battlefield, could be mass-produced quickly.

Each 22-pound aircraft costs about $50,000, but the Navy believes mass production can reduce the price to $20,000.

"This is the sort of simple innovation that could greatly reduce casualties," Thompson says.