Predators On The Prowl

A suspected US missile strike killed up to 13 foreign…

A suspected US missile strike killed up to 13 foreign militants in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, which targeted second or third tier al Qaeda leaders, according to residents in the tribal area. Initial reports said ten people were killed in the attack on a house in Torkhali village near the town of Mir Ali.

predator2.jpgAn intelligence official told Reuters that based on information gleaned from tribal contacts, some seven Arabs and six Central Asians were among those killed. He said the attack was believed to have been carried out by a US Air Force Predator UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) flown across the nearby border with Afghanistan. “The missile appeared to have been fired by a drone,” the intelligence official said.

The Pakistani authorities have not confirmed the attack, and the Pentagon has denied taking any action, but the Defense Department does not speak for the Central Intelligence Agency, which operates the Predators that the tribesmen say carried out the attack late on Monday. Villagers saw two UAVs flying over the area before the attack. They didn’t see the missile being fired, but one heard a plane’s engine before the explosion.

Intelligence officials said the area is controlled by Islamist militants and too dangerous for security forces to enter. After the attack, militants surrounded the area and barred anyone from going anywhere near the house.
Ahmed Aziz, a 70-year-old resident, told Reuters that the militants also stopped villagers from attending the funerals, which was a sign that those killed were all foreigners. “When local people die, they don’t stop anyone from attending their funerals,” Aziz said.

Tribesmen in the area said a deputy of Abu Laith al Libi, a senior al Qaeda leader, had been staying there and was among the dead, according to the intelligence official. “The latest information we have from the area is that a second-in-command to al Libi was also killed,” he said.

Several times in recent years, US forces in Afghanistan have launched similar attacks on al Qaeda targets on the Pakistani side of the border. If it was a US UAV attack, the lack of confirmation is not unusual. Pakistan says it will not tolerate violations of its territorial sovereignty, and reports of such attacks are embarrassing for the US-Pakistani alliance.

MQ-1 Predator
The MQ-1 Predator is an UAV which the US Air Force describes as a MALE (medium-altitude, long-endurance) UAV system. It can serve in a reconnaissance role and carry two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The aircraft, in use since 1995, has seen combat over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, and Yemen. It is remote-controlled by humans, and therefore, not an autonomous aircraft.

The MQ-1 Predator is a system, not just an aircraft. The operational system consists of four aircraft (with sensors), a ground control station (GCS), a Predator primary satellite link communication suite, and 55 men. In the overall US Air Force integrated UAV system, the Predator is considered a “Tier II” vehicle.

The Predator air vehicle and sensors are controlled from the ground station be means of a C-band line-of-sight data link or a Ku-band satellite data link for beyond-line-of-sight operations. During flight operations, the crew in the ground control station is a pilot and two sensor operators. The aircraft is equipped with Multi-spectral Targeting System, a color nose camera (generally used by the pilot for flight control), a variable aperture day-television camera, and a variable aperture infrared camera (for low light/night). The cameras produce full motion video, and the synthetic aperture radar produces still-frame radar images. There is sufficient bandwidth on the datalink for two video sources to be used at one time, but only one video source from the sensor ball can be operated at any time due to design limitations. Either the daylight variable aperture or the infrared electro-optical sensor can be operated simultaneously with the synthetic aperture radar.

All Predators are equipped with a laser designator that allows the pilot to identify targets for other aircraft and even provide the laser-guidance for manned aircraft.

RQ-1 Predator

The Predator system was initially designated the RQ-1 Predator. The “R” is the Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance and the “Q” refers to an unmanned aircraft system. The “1” describes it as being the first of a series of aircraft systems built for unmanned reconnaissance.

Pre-production systems were designated as RQ-1A, while the RQ-1B (not to be confused with the RQ-1 Predator B, which became the MQ-9 Reaper) denotes the baseline production configuration. These are designations for the system as a unit. The actual aircraft themselves were designated RQ-1K for pre-production models, and RQ-1L for production models. In 2005, the Air Force officially changed the designation to MQ-1 (the “M” designates multi-role) to reflect its growing use as an armed aircraft.

MQ-9A Predator B
The Predator B version started flying in late 2002. The standard MQ-9, at a takeoff weight of 10,000 pounds, can carry 3,000 pounds of payload and 3,000 pounds of fuel. With no exterior stores, it could stay aloft for 32 hours at an altitude of more than 50,000 feet. The version with the wingspan extended to 86 feet, about the same as a 737 airliner, can carry 34 hours of internal fuel. With two 1,000-pound drop tanks and 1,000 pounds of weapons, it can fly a 42-hour mission.

Weapons planned for the MQ-9A Predator B include the AGM-114 Hellfire II laser-guided, air-to-surface missile to attack stationary ground targets. By the end of 2003, the Air Force intends evaluate Raytheon’s FIM-92 Stinger missile in the air-to-air role. By 2005, the Air Force added the GBU-38 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). The service then intends to integrate the 500-pound GBU-12 laser-guided bomb. Other direct-attack weapons, such as Raytheon’s AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile, remain options, while air-to-air weapons like Raytheon’s AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile may also be evaluated at some point.

The fifth Predator B was completed in June 2004, and a sharp increase in output was ordered afterwards. The current configuration has a length of 36 feet and a wingspan of 68 feet. It was not reported whether or not the extended wingspan version would enter into service.

The radar system on the Predator B also represents an upgrade over the Predator A. Since the Predator B is expected to act as a strike vehicle, an improved targeting radar was developed by General Atomics in conjunction with Sandia National Laboratories. The new radar system is known as Lynx synthetic aperture radar. Not only does the new radar have 4-inch imagery resolution, it can also zoom. It allows the Predator B to accomplish its ground-imaging role even in poor conditions. Also, the targeting system was replaced with the 22-inch Raytheon MTS-B gimbal. This new system works at longer ranges than the previous 17-inch Multi-Spectral Targeting System camera gimbal.

AGM-114 Hellfire

The Hellfire Air-to-Ground Missile System (AGMS) provides heavy anti-armor capability for attack helicopters. The first three generations of the Hellfire missile series used a laser seeker.

The first generation of Laser Hellfire presently is used as the main armament of the US Army’s AH-64 Apache. The second generation currently is available for deployment. Laser Hellfire homes on a laser spot that can be projected from ground observers, other aircraft, or the launching aircraft, itself. This enables the system to be employed in a variety of modes: autonomous, air or ground, direct or indirect, single shot, rapid, or ripple fire.
The AGM-114A Basic Hellfire tactical missile is the originally designed Hellfire missile which is no longer purchased by the Army. A total of 31,616 were produced.

The AGM-114C missile has an improved semi-active laser seeker with an improved low-visibility capability. The AGM-114C has a low smoke motor and a lower trajectory than the 114A. Army missiles should be marked with either the A or C designation just behind the seeker.

The AGM-114F Interim Hellfire missile features two warheads (adding a precursor warhead to defeat vehicles equipped with reactive armor), a seeker, and an autopilot similar to the C-model missile. Final delivery of the Interim Hellfire missiles produced by Rockwell was completed in January 1994. Production for foreign military sales continues.

The AGM-114K Hellfire II missile features dual warheads for defeating reactive armor, electro-optical countermeasures hardening, semi-active laser seeker, and a programmable autopilot for trajectory shaping. The AGM-114K missile is capable of operating with either pulsed radar frequency or A-Code laser codes for those aircraft equipped with dual-code capability.

Hellfire II incorporates many improvements over the Interim Hellfire missile, including solving the laser obscurant/backscatter problem, the only shortcoming identified during Operation Desert Storm. Other improvements include electro-optical countermeasure hardening, improved target reacquisition capability, an advanced technology warhead system capable of defeating reactive armor configurations projected into the 21st century, reprogrammability to adapt to changing threats and mission requirements, and shipboard compatibility.

For anti-armor roles, the AGM-114 missile has a conical shaped charge warhead with a copper liner cone that forms the jet, which provides armor penetration. This high explosive, antitank warhead is effective against various types of armor including appliqué and reactive. Actual penetration performance is classified. It can also be employed against concrete bunkers and similar fortifications.

The tactical missiles are propelled by a single stage, single thrust, solid propellant motor. When thrust exceeds 500 to 600 pounds, the missile leaves the rail. Based on a 10g acceleration parameter, arming occurs between 150 to 300 meters after the initial launch.

Maximum velocity of the missile is 950 miles per hour. Maximum stand-off range is a function of missile performance, launch platform altitude versus target altitude, visibility and cloud cover. Remote designation allows the launch aircraft to stand off at greater distances from the target. This stand-off range can be out to the maximum missile effective engagement range.

There are different techniques for tactical employment of the Hellfire missile on the battlefield. These techniques are ultimately driven by the two engagement methods by which the missile can be controlled to the target: autonomous and remote.

An autonomous engagement requires the aircraft launching the missile to guide it all the way to the target after the missile is away. In this method, a single aircraft and its crew will locate, identify, fire, and guide the missile until destruction of the target.

In contrast, a remote engagement requires an aircraft to serve as a launch platform, providing a missile for another aircraft or a ground observer, designating with a laser, to guide the missile to its intended target. A ground designation station such as an FO or Combat Observation Lasing Team (COLT) accomplishes this with lasing devices like the G/VLLD or MULE.

With a remote engagement, the aircrew is responsible only for delivering the missile toward the general location of the target, but is no longer responsible for its guidance once it leaves the external launch rails. This allows remote engagements to provide one distinct advantage over autonomous engagements. Using this technique, the launch aircraft is often able to remain masked behind terrain, greatly reducing its visible launch signature while delivering missiles toward the target array and thereby increasing aircraft survivability, a force protection consideration. Remote engagements, however, require a great deal more coordination and planning between the “shooter” and the “observer.”

The first delivery mode is known as the Lock-on Before Launch (LOBL) technique. In this mode, the missile laser seeker acquires and locks-on to the coded laser energy reflected from the target prior to launch. The advantage to using this particular delivery mode is that the air crew is assured that the missile has already positively locked on to the target prior to launch from the aircraft, thereby reducing the possibility of a lost or uncontrolled missile. The disadvantages of a LOBL delivery revolve around the trajectory of the Hellfire missile. To compensate for a low cloud ceiling, an aircraft may need to expose itself to threat weapons ranges in order to ensure a successful engagement.

The Predator UAV armed with Hellfire missiles has become one of the most effective US weapons in the War on Terror. It will continue to play a vital role in the years ahead.

Load Comments