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Predators Draw Their First Blood in Libya Campaign

by John Reed on April 24, 2011

Well, it finally happened, the Predator drones ordered to Libya by the Pentagon last week took out their first target on April 23, a rocket launcher being used by Gadhafi’s troops to hit civilians in the besieged city of Misurata; the same day reports surfaced that regime forces were withdrawing from the city after a two month siege that was met with stiff rebel resistance.

While it’s impossible to draw a direct correlation between the arrival of the drones and the withdrawal of government troops, DoD  says the drones can hit targets in the cities in a way that NATO jets have so far been held back from doing.

When Pentagon officials announced the arrival of two combat air patrols of the unmanned strike planes earlier this week, they said the drones provided the best capability, even better than AC-130 gunships or A-10 Warthogs,  to loiter close to the fighting and find and kill Gadhafi’s troops who have been using civilians as cover. As Gen. James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said last week:

What they will bring that is unique to the — to the conflict is their ability to get down lower, therefore to be able to get better visibility on particularly targets now that have started to dig themselves in into defensive positions.  They’re uniquely suited for areas — urban areas where you can get low collateral damage.  And so we’re trying to manage that collateral damage obviously, but that’s the best platform to do that with; their extended persistence on the target — they’re out there for a full day working the targets.

And so you have those capabilities, in addition to being able to get in targets where — out in the open where collateral damage is a worry, for instance, around ammo depots and things like that, that you want to hit — particularly a vehicle but you don’t want to hit the depot and have the secondaries.

So it brings some capabilities to the NATO commander that they didn’t have before.

He added:

The character of the fight has changed also.  I mean, the introduction of the air and the capability that NATO’s brought — things that are out in the open, know that they’re going to probably perish if a NATO bird sees them.

So you’re seeing a much more dispersed fight, people that are digging in or nestling up against crowded areas, where collateral damage is.

The other issue out there that we’re trying to struggle with is the — now you have the intermixing of the lines, so to speak.  So it’s very difficult to pick friend from foe.  So a vehicle like the Predator that can get down lower and can get IDs better helps us.


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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Thunder350 April 24, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Atleast we have somewhere to use the Predators, especially now after Pakistan has made us shut our base down… after we sent them billions upon billions of $$$$$$$ the past 10 years for their politicians to put in their pockets. Or to even funnel back into the Taliban's hands.


anonymousEEE April 24, 2011 at 8:02 pm

sorry, meant to give a thumbs up


Bill April 24, 2011 at 8:37 pm

I, for one, welcome Lybia's new robot overlords


Jake April 24, 2011 at 4:25 pm

As much as I love cool toys like the Raptor and the JSF, the future belongs to the Predator and its progeny – esp. in the coming cost-constrained climate. Remember, Carter was derided for betting the farm on cruise missiles at the expense of the manned B-1 – a decision that proved him right in hindsight. (Point being that it is the smart, cheap -er, relatively so- weapons that are our future)


Thunder350 April 24, 2011 at 5:04 pm

I'm just waiting for the unmanned bombers and fighters, stealth or not. They are the future.

It'll save billions for not having to train pilots alone, and not having to waste room/money on safety equipment. Or you could take that room/money saved and throw in better electronics.

As for piloting the UAV's, everyone knows how to use a controller, hell, you can go to your local radio shack and buy a "UAV" for $50. Our children play with miniature ones everyday! Just gotta teach them military protocol.

And if one gets shot down, no need to form a rescue mission, just have a bomb dropped on it to prevent any equipment from getting into the wrong hands.

Oh and look! We just saved the DoD billions! Hell, probably even trillions over a few years. And if your upset about getting rid of pilots, just ship them to the Army and let them pilot helo's, the Army's always saying they don't have enough of them.

Only problem standing in the way of the future, are the old fools still in charge, our corrupt congress, and the corporations who control congress thru all the money they steal from the tax payer thru BS reasons on "cost increase", milking the old outdated systems. Ofcourse those corporations would probably support something like this so they could make up another reason as to why they need to raise the price 80% or more.


elportonative77 April 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Damn. Those poor combat pilots who are going to be put out of a job because of drones.


someone April 25, 2011 at 11:21 am

"took out their first target on April 23, a rocket launcher being used by Gadhafi’s troops to hit civilians in the besieged city of Misurata " Its not used to 'hit civilians' (though some may be hit) but its used to attack the rebels holding the city. Thats like saying U.S. forces are hitting civilians in xyz when there are civilian casualties.


Curt April 26, 2011 at 3:33 am

Ah, but if they were attacking a rocket launcher that was being used to attack armed rebels who are hiding among the innocent civilians (as opposed to say a rocket launcher attacking innocent civilians), they couldn't use the UN Resolution for justification, could they?


Morty April 25, 2011 at 11:57 am

I agree with someone


Sanem April 25, 2011 at 3:21 pm

1 I see your point, UAVs are a vital force multiplier in COIN. however, that war has dragged on for 10 years now, it's not like a handful of Predators are going to make the difference

unlike in Lybia were the war is being decided at this very moment, but were manned aircraft lack the persistence to identify and attack targets. over there, Predators could quite literally decide the outcome of the war

2 I also agree on this point, as much a drone-fanboy as I am, manned aircraft still add a strategic flexibility that cannot be overlooked

against peer opponents, manned aircraft will if anything be used as close-in control stations, using the UAVs sort of as missiles, eliminating many communications vulnerabilities (for example using short ranged IR signals to transmit data). which is perhaps my biggest beef with the F-22 and F-35, they only have one pilot, sigh… :(

mind you, a war against Russia or China would be disastrous, if only because of the potential damage done through the internet, it would have a greater economic impact than a nuke! (that and China being the biggest economic partner of, well, everyone, and Russia being a vital energy provider for the EU)


blight April 25, 2011 at 4:06 pm

UAVs can be controlled by LOS systems, which suggests a possible backup would be using AWACs craft. And if you don't need pictures for air to air combat, then that drops data transmission tremendously. There's really no reason to transmit FMV in air to air combat, you just need radar for position/velocity/acceleration data to build a synthetic environment for a pilot to remotely control the craft.

I suspect it'd be easier to nail a UAV ground control station close to the field or a future air control station than to design anti-satellite missiles. You can blind a spysat, but blinding won't do anything to a communications satellite. You can design a powerful missile that attaches to an aircraft (as the United States did) or a ballistic missile; the latter invites misinterpretation in so many ways.


Nathan April 26, 2011 at 10:42 am

The Navy needs to share their focused laser weapon system with the Predators. If we can kill a boat engine from hundreds of feet away (while on rough seas), we can zap insurgents in close proximity to civvies with little to no collateral damage.


Brian April 26, 2011 at 11:41 am

The F-22 and F-35 are the tools of their own demise. The problem isn't that a Predator can do the job cheaper, because it can't. The Predator doesn't have near the same capabilities as either of the two jets. The problem is that the F-22 and F-35 have pushed our air dominance to the point that no one will willingly engage us. Our enemies haven't gone away, but they will do everything they can to work around our F-22s. None of their warplans are going to involve "then our pilots try to shoot down American planes". You don't get into a fistfight with Superman.

If the era of manned combat aircraft has ended, it's because we won the race. We got to the end, and found the F-22 waiting there for us, and at that point nobody could compete. As long as we have the F-22 in sufficient numbers, that will be the case. If we decide we don't need it any more, that's when air to air combat for other countries becomes viable again.


William C. April 25, 2011 at 9:05 am

As promising as the Avenger UAV and UCLASS (X-47B type) are, they won't be making the F-35 obsolete. They have different roles.


ew-3 April 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Over the next 5 years, the Avenger will have a lot of overlap of capabilities for SEAD and typical bombing missions with the JSF. But after those 5 years I would expect the next UAV to begin to eclipse the JSF. UAVs by their very nature can evolve much faster and at lower cost. In 10 years the JSF design will be about 30 years old. In 10 years the next UAV will probably only 5 years old. I wouldn't be surprised it would have a decent A2A capability, although with BVR weapons the current production Avenger with a 6000lb payload it sure could carry a load of A2A ordinance and act as a spear carrier for a manned aircraft.


Sanem April 25, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I seriously hope the F-35 doesn't become obsolete that fast, considering the hundreds of billions spent on it

but it is likely. take the F-22 for example, officially in use for about 5 years and already its stealth coating, radar, lack of helmet mounted targetting system etc are making it look outdated

it is my personal belief that we've come at a point were developing cutting edge technology is a bad idea because technology evolves so damn fast, your invention is outdated by the time it becomes operational. often it would be better to stick to off the shelf stuff and add-on, plug and play additions to improve on sensors, communications, stealth coating etc

I do have to say I really dislike the Predator C Avenger, because it shifts the focus back from the cheap and expendable prop designs to stealth and turbo fan. a nice middle ground to the high performance Global Hawk, but I fear it'll bring the USAF back to it's gold plated fetish, not to mention the USN

(unmanned) prop aircraft are the way to go, that has been proven in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and now Lybia, if for no other reason than the cost compared to (mannd) turbofan aircraft. such a slow and cheap but persistent system is the natural addition to the West's air superiority strategy, but also a superb addition in any peer conflict where numbers are a vital factor: ask the Syrians how UAVs broke their powerful air defences back in 1982!

A2A is already possible, the Predator A model proved that in 2003 over Iraq. it's the will to allow a UAV to engage in air combat that keeps it back, which is absurd in today's BVR combat scene, where numbers and stealth are the deciding factors


William C. April 26, 2011 at 3:17 pm

They don't have a BVR capability as you can't just "plug in" an APG-81 or similar system. Even the X-47B only has AIM-9Xs for self-defense.

Lockheed's JSF (X-35) design emerged in it's final form during the late 1990s, the F-35 itself is significantly changed from that. The "it is already __ years old" argument was also wrongly used against the F-22.


wyhunter April 26, 2011 at 7:39 am

President Obama


ew-3 April 26, 2011 at 12:17 pm

"it is my personal belief that we've come at a point were developing cutting edge technology is a bad idea because technology evolves so damn fast"

In civilian industry, we can almost keep up with technology. But it takes good management and responsive processes. Neither of which the DoD has much of. That is why General Atomics UAVs can evolve so fast. And likely the reason they pay for their own R&D.

It's not too difficult to figure out what will be needed, just put together the usual buzz words – smaller, lighter, faster, cheaper and better performance then the currently used product. Build it and they will come.


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