One of the moves in modern warfare has been to reduce the amount of personnel that are involved in direct frontline combat. There are lots of new fangled technologies that have made this possible, including several that look more like Xbox controllers than weaponry. No accidentally taking those home lest an effort at Skyrim turns into an invasion of Burkina Faso.
One of the most popular machines is the UAV. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Which is precisely what it says on the box (I half hope they come in boxes like Airfix kits). They are primarily used as surveillance device, particularly in places where it would be too risky to send human scouts. There have long been used spy planes.
The most famous is the LOckheed U-2 ( the only good U2 track frankly), which has been operational for the United States Air Force since 1957. However, this CIA stalwart has a disadvantage, as demonstrated by the unfortunate Gary Powers who was shot down spying over the Soviet Union, and found himself embroiled in an international furorae.
The very beautiful U2 in flight (now isn’t that much prettier than Bono?)
Frances Gary powers (Photo by Russian International News Agency)
UAVs were an almost inevitable development after the USAF mislaid several hundred pilots in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. They aren’t just used in military operations either, they have search and rescue roles outside the armed forces, scouting for oilfields and serving as remote sensors.
One such device, the RQ-4/MQ-4, came into service for the USAF 28th February 1998. Resembling a hump backed whale this Northrop Grumman UAV costs $35 million per device, but cost over $200million to develop. It can carry a 900kg payload and the Rolls-Royce Allison Ae3007 turbofan which has a thrust (ooo-err) of 42kN. Conveniently, given that its a spyplane, it is a low noise fan, which you might also spot on your Cessna (what’s that? you don’t have one? ah more of a Gulfstream chap are you?).
The United States Navy’s collection of spy planes (well the ones they want to tell us about…Steve tells me that I have to point out these are toy planes, I’m not sure if this is because he wants to encourage you to take up spying)
It uses satellite data to manage its flights, and can operate untethered. In warfare terms though, the most interesting part is what its technology can do…
It can detect moving targets over a 100km radius (it can’t tell you if they’re on your side, the other side or the Red Cross however)
It can resolve to 6metres over a 37km area
Which is quite a lot of spying for your money.
Lest you think spyplanes are just an airforce thing, NASA owns one of these chaps as part of the Dryden Reseach Centre, which experiments with all kinds of exciting things…
NASA’s RQ-4/MQ-4 by Carla Thomas of NASA
NASA’s Dryden Collection (they look like toys don’t they?…they’re not honestly)
Now we may not have an RQ4 here at Arcane, but we do have its more famous sibling the RQ-1. This plane is the scourge of the Afghan and Pakistan plains, and generally something of an unwelcome social guest. effective though. The Italeri 1:72 scale, which is probably just about big enough that you could make it fly. No spying on next door when its July though…
Though spyplanes don’t play an especially significant role in wargaming (though personally I think that would be awesome), they do say modern war like no other device…From the cold war to present day they’ve had an essential role in strategy…but what modern wars do you play? And what’s your strategy?