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Predator provides close-air support to embattled Marines in Iraq

by 1st Lt. Tiffany Payette
U.S. Central Air Forces Public Affairs

6/20/2005 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle destroyed an anti-Iraqi forces mortar launch site near Al Qaim on June 18 while assisting Marines under enemy fire.

The air strike occurred during Operation Spear in which U.S. and Iraqi security forces in Iraq’s Anbar province called in air strikes on terrorist strong holds.

An Air Force joint terminal attack controller, whose unit on the ground was under mortar attack, saw imagery from a nearby Predator assigned to another mission and requested control of the unmanned aerial vehicle.

After positive identification of the launch site, the Predator received clearance to strike with its Hellfire missile against the target.

The controller was able to see the imagery via a remote video system, which is a new technology being used by troops involved with close-air support missions. The system allows battlefield Airmen to watch live video feeds from various sensors such as the Predator. This capability provides the controller with better situational awareness of the battle space and the potential to save American and coalition troops’ lives, officials said.

“(The system) allows us to see threats that may be around a corner, behind, or maybe even on top, of a building,” said Marine Lt. Col. Scott Wedemeyer, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing battle captain. “In this case, we were able to see what appeared to be the point of origin for the mortar attack. The (system), coupled with the UAV, allowed us to investigate the site, confirm the enemy position and attack it without putting our forces at any unnecessary risk.”

This new technology decreases the threat to troops on the battlefield, and commanders on the ground said they are happy to have the technology at their fingertips.

“I am glad both the (receiver system) and the Predator were there,” Colonel Wedemeyer said. “Armed with those tools, the threat was eliminated. Tools like these allow us to shorten the engagement cycle. We can positively identify an aggressor more quickly and deliver a more timely and responsive attack in support of our brethren on the ground.”

“(The system) has been extremely effective in Operation Iraqi Freedom because it actually gives the ground commander an ‘eyes on’ view of the target that the ground commander wants to attack,” said Tech. Sgt. Juan Rodriguez, an Air Support Operations Center spokesman. “(That way he or she is) not relying on what somebody else tells them over the radio before they are willing to sign their name to the bomb that is about to be dropped.”

One of the significant technological advances to the system is that the newest version of the system can receive from multiple transmitters within reach, allowing it to use hundreds of assets at any give time, as opposed to the older version, which can receive only a handful of transmitters, officials said.

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