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drones (rpvs) The US Navy, Marine Corps, and Army used basically two types of RPVs in the war,the Pointer and the more sophisticated Pioneer.

The Pioneer drone (developed by the Israelis and produced in the U.S.) has a wingspan of 17 feet and is 14 feet long. It is powered by a 26 horsepower snowmobile engine and has a range of about 100 miles and a flight duration of five hours. It can carry a multitude of sensors including television and FLIR. The drone is catapulted into the air and while airborne runs on liquid fuel. It is guided by an electronic box with a joystick that the operator uses to turn the plane left or right, up or down in the same way remote-controlled model planes work. Each Pioneer costs about $500,000 and carries a $400,000 video camera that can take highly-detailed pictures from 2,000 feet and transmit them 100 miles away.

assignment in gulf war

According to a May 1991 Department of the Navy report, "At least one UAV was airborne at all times during Desert Storm."

There were 522 sorties/1641 hours flown -- with the Navy having 100 sorties; the Marine Corps 94; the Army 48. RPVs were used extensively in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, not only by the United States but also by coalition forces.

In its use as long distance eyes for battleship guns, the RPV's position was sent to the shipboard computer. Based on that information, the shipboard artillery aimed at whatever the RPV 'sees.' The RPVs's were also used by Marines for aerial patrols along the Saudi-Kuwait border. The camera's infrared capacity picked up troops on the ground and vehicles hidden behind camouflage. It picked out targets for bombing runs by B-52s or F-15s. When bombing raids are over, it circled over the area and sent back live tv coverage of the damage done. RPVs were also used to collect mapping information to steer Tomahawk cruise missiles to their targets.

"During the last week of the Gulf War, thousands of Iraqis surrendered......One of the most unusual surrenders took place when a Pioneer remotely-piloted vehicle droned above the battlefield, surveying potential targets. Five Iraqi soldiers waved white flags at its tiny television camera. it was the first time in history that men surrendered to a robot."

From: James Coyne, "Air Power in the Gulf"


"The Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) provided substantial imagery support to Marine, Army and Navy units during Operation Desert Storm. They were so good many more could have been used.

These systems were employed for battlefield damage assesment (BDA), targeting (e.g., adjusting the accuracy of the battleships' 16-inch guns, which were used extensively against Iraqi fortifications along the Kuwaiti coastline) and surveillance missions, particularly in high-threat airspace.

The intelligence officer for a Marine Division which was blessed with more UAVs than any other unit in-theater commented, UAVs were great for target validation and BDA, but we could have used three times as many as we had. The Army took its solitary set of UAVs into the war and is now looking for many more. In one instance, Iraqi troops actually attempted to surrender to a UAV loitering over their position."

From: "Intelligence Successes and Failures in Operations Desert Shield/Storm--Report of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, Committee on Armed Services, U.S. House of Representatives, August, 1993.

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