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Part 3: Are UAVs Good at Finding Targets

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Drone Myth #2: Good at Finding/Identifying Targets (excerpt)

(Source: Center for Defense Information; issued February 29, 2012)

The jargon these days is "ISR" (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), and it is a key function for drones, such as Reaper. In fact, it is the underlying reason for them. Surely, it must be, for as we have already seen, the MQ-9 Reaper is significantly more expensive to buy and operate than analogous manned aircraft (according to official Air Force and DOD cost data), it cannot survive in defended airspace, and it carries a meager payload of just two types of weapons.

Today's part of this series addresses what turns out to be Reaper's extremely limited ability to find and identify valid targets. The simple fact is that some of the technologies Reaper uses for sensing targets is are simply not working and in other cases longstanding problems have not been solved. How bad is it? See the discussion below comparing Reaper not to modern combat aircraft but to a primitive Cessna aircraft with sensor technology far cheaper than Reaper's.

Readers may also be interested to learn that this entire series on Reaper was peer-reviewed by some highly qualified technical experts, including three serving DOD officials (and one retiree) with significant responsibilities for drone performance and/or operations. In each case, the experts specifically reviewed the material that follows on Reaper's "ISR" capabilities (and the analysis on crash rate to be published tomorrow). These officials had no quarrel with the series' analysis and findings, except to say in one case that a drone (other than Reaper) did not have difficulty tracking a human target once located and identified by other means. In commenting on the series summation, to be published Friday, this same commenter asserted "totally agree," all in CAPs.

3. Finding the Right Targets

Many argue the most critical payload Reaper carries is sensors for finding targets and collecting information that is made available to operators on the ground. The current version of the Reaper has a "Multi-Spectral Targeting System" that combines infrared and optical sensors and a laser designator/range finder to employ Hellfire missiles and laser guided bombs.

But the ability of these sensors to identify targets-to discern just what they are, based on the clarity and resolution of the imagery received on the ground-has serious limitations. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the rest of the story, on the CDI website.