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UAVs aid force protection efforts

by Senior Airman Eric Schloeffel
506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

3/17/2008 - KIRKUK AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- RQ-11 Raven unmanned aerial vehicles may be easily mistaken for an unorthodox version of a model airplane, but Airmen here use the UAV to secure the base and surrounding neighborhoods.

Weighing in at less than 5 pounds, the Raven is operated from the ground via a remote control unit that can send the aircraft 10 kilometers away at speeds up to 60 miles per hour.

"UAVs play a very significant role in the war on terrorism; we provide another line of defense for troops accomplishing the mission outside the wire," said Senior Airman Jacob Galindo, a 506th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron Raven operator. "Instead of sending U.S. troops out blindly, UAVs ensure the area is safe for them to operate."

Cameras attached to the aircraft transmit to hand-held and computer devices allowing the operators to see events on the ground from miles away. The Raven can be controlled manually or set to an "auto-pilot" mode on a pre-planned route.

"Our part of the mission falls into integrated airbase defense, as we patrol areas both inside and outside the confines of the base," said Senior Airman Glenn Gerald, a 506th ESFS Raven operator. "Our team operates outside the wire in a sense, because we use the UAV as our eye. Through the eye of our UAV, we have our sights on the perimeter, which provides an important role to base defense."

The primary missions for the Raven here include target acquisition, battle damage assessment, convoy security and force protection. In simpler terms, the Raven provides overwatch and protective measures to keep servicemembers stationed here out of harm's way.

A small group of enlisted Airmen, all below the rank of technical sergeant, are the sole operators of the Raven at Kirkuk Air Base. These Airmen fly numerous missions each day and share the responsibility of coordinating with the control tower for airspace over Iraq.

Out of more than 22,000 security forces Airmen in the Air Force, less than 50 are trained to fly this model of UAV. The training consists of two weeks of procedural instruction at the Force Protection Aerial Surveillance System School at Creech Air Force Base, Nev.

"At first, when I learned the value of all the equipment it was very intimidating," said Airman 1st Class Melvin Silva, a 506th ESFS Raven operator. "As our training went on, I learned all the techniques to keep the Raven in top condition. While flying the Raven, we just fall back on our training and use that to the best of our ability."

Recent successes have shown how valuable these advanced "model airplanes" can be to the U.S. mission here.

"UAV operators saw people placing improvised explosive devices on the side of a nearby road," Sergeant Carter said. "They called in the report, and within a short amount of time a response team was on-scene to check out the situation. Just knowing the fact that we have the power to save lives is a great benefit to working with the Raven.

"It's a great piece of equipment because even though it's valuable, there is no loss of life if it gets shot down," he said. "Very few aircraft have the capability to save lives without endangering life."

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