Predators Draw Their First Blood in Libya Campaign

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.

 

9 Comments on "Predators Draw Their First Blood in Libya Campaign"

  1. 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.

  2. 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)

  3. elportonative77 | April 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Reply

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

  4. "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.

  5. I agree with someone

  6. 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)

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

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