Friday, September 3, 2010

Eye In The Sky

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been around for well over a decade: we're all familiar with the USA's extensive use of drones for both surveillence and attack in the Middle East. You may not be aware that our forces also have this technology, albeit on a much smaller scale.
This is the NZDF miniature UAV (called the "Kahu" - because everything in NZ seems to require a maori name). But with a range of only 25km, two hours' flight time, and a payload of .6kg., it'll never carry any missiles.
They've been operated by my old unit, 1 Locating Troop, 16 Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery since 2008. They give excellent "over the hill" view to commanders on the ground. And mini-UAVs are often used here by private companies for photography purposes: Google even uses them for street mapping.
With slight modification, they can also be used by the Navy. They have search-and-rescue potential, carrying a thermal-imaging camera to detect the temperature difference of a body in the water. UAVs can cover a larger area faster than a ship, and cheaper than an aircraft. One difficulty with naval use is recovery at sea, but a reliable automatic system will be aboard one of our new patrol ships this year.
So, given the obvious benefits, I was somewhat surprised that a request this week, by our soldiers in Afghanistan, for mini-UAVs has been rejected. NZ Defence Minister Wayne Mapp has asked for an update on the UAVs. He'll want specific logistical information before considering their deployment, given that sending UAVs would also require sending support personnel. The NZDF claims the mini-UAVs are not ready for operational use, but that's bollocks!
Mind you, with a lot of NZers limp-dick about using our forces in the roles they're trained for, the government will be cautious about escalating our involvement...

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