BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Fighting an insurgency without fronts, U.S. commanders in Iraq need a technical advantage to rob the enemy of free movement.

Live video images from unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, give soldiers critical capabilities, said 1st Lt. William Weiland, 501st Military Intelligence. They can alert a patrol to a suspect who’s fleeing from a building, or alert a convoy to stop because someone is setting an IED, Weiland said.

A few years ago, the Hunter was the primary Army drone.

Now a new generation of tactical drones, or TUAVs, are smaller, easier to fly and can provide more battlefield intelligence to more people, say soldiers and representatives of AAI Corporation, the Maryland-based company that builds the new Shadows series.

Some capabilities are similar. The new generation of unmanned drones, like their predecessors, can fly for hours at time and capture real-time images — day or night — then transmit to brigade tactical operations center up, or TOC, to 70 miles away, according to AAI technical specifications.

But the new Shadow system drones — 11-feet long and with a 15-foot wingspan — are less than half the size of the Hunter, so they’re easier and faster to deploy, said Dave Parlett, a spokesman at AAI headquarters.

Unlike Hunters, which are nearly the size of a small plane and must be taxied for take off and landing, Shadow drones are shot into the air, and land within 30 feet, requiring less crew, said Lt. Col. Timothy Faulkner, 501st MI battalion commander.

Another improvement is smaller ground stations that can transmit to a second location, such as a battalion TOC, said Parlett and Weiland.

New ground stations are small enough for controls to fit in the corner of the brigade TOC, but sophisticated enough to transmit real-time video on to battalion intelligence officers and plans officers in the battalion TOC.

Remote video terminals even allow soldiers on the ground to get feeds, Parlett said.

“There have been occasions where [UAVs] tracked insurgents, following them until soldiers could get there,” Parlett said. Soldiers then “backstepped” the insurgents’ route as recorded by the drone and found weapons caches, he said.

New drones are also easier to fly, Faulkner said: “Have you ever played Flight Simulator?” Shadow UAVs require the same sort of hand-eye skills as video games, said Staff Sgt. Thomas Finch, a 501st MI pilot.

“Smart soldiers can do this stuff easily,” Weiland said.

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