The Washington Post has a Page One story on the US utilizing UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to spy on Iran's nuclear program from Iraq. It appears that the Iranians thought they were UFOs until recently and had even engaged the Russians to figure out what they were. Isn't it great to see the Russians are helping out the Iranians with more than just their nuclear program? The US may be using the UAVs over Iran to determine which sites may have nuclear material, what anti-aircraft defenses Iran has, and general surveillance.
A good friend of mine is a Weapons System Operator in an F-15E. It is a very impressive multi-purpose fighter aircraft, and I am glad it is not his mission to fly over Iran. However, I am glad that the US has invested in UAVs over the years. ($3 billion in the early 1990s has grown to $12 billion in the 2004-2009 budget). Our tax dollars have helped put the following UAVs into all branches of the US military and Homeland Security:
- Predator with Hellfire Missiles (USAF) - Top speed 135 mph
- Shadow (US Army) - Top Speed 123 mph
- Global Hawk (USAF & USN under BAMS program) - Top Speed 400 mph
- Aerostar - (Israeli UAV with USN) Top Speed 120 mph
- Hermes - (US Dept. Homeland Security) Top Speed 100 mph
- Hunter - (US Army) Top Speed 120 mph
- Pioneer - (USN & US Marine Corps) Top Speed 115 mph
- Dragon Eye - (US Marine Corps) Top Speed 35 mph
There are many advantages to UAVs. They can be overhead when satellites cannot, return air particles that may find nuclear activity, and loiter over target areas all without risk to American life. This removes the potential for a Gary Powers U2 incident like we had with the Soviets in 1960.
This is a good example of military hardware increasing US diplomatic options by giving us better information with no American lives at risk.
UPDATE: Of course, after writing the post I stumble upon this great blog out of Australia on UAVs. Enjoy!
UDPATE 2: I posted on this story before checking Drudge. I know, I know it is his main headline.