U.S. special or covert forces are using hand-launched UAVs disguised as large birds to monitor terrorist movements along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Pakistan Frontier Corps recovered one such UAV after it crashed on August 25 near one of its border forts in Baluchistan.
Photos released by news agencies show a propeller-driven design with a six-foot cranked wingspan and a four-foot centerbody that narrows to a rudder, topped by a horizontal fan tail. A Pakistan military spokesman identified the UAV as American, unarmed and equipped with two cameras. It developed a technical fault, and was not shot down, he added.
Some mini-UAVs operating in the region are named after large birds, but none of them closely resemble the downed craft. Thousands of Aerovironment Ravens have been built for the U.S. Army. The Pakistan armed forces themselves operate the indigenously designed and produced Border Eagle. Lockheed Martin has produced the Desert Hawk for the British Army.
The Lockheed UAV was designed by the Skunk Works, which then developed the Stalker mini-UAV for sale to “special operations communities.” The electric propulsion system of the Stalker is silent, according to Lockheed Martin. The company has just revealed a new hybrid fuel cell/battery powered version of the Stalker that can fly for eight hours.
Despite the downed UAV’s disguise, residents of the nearby village of Chaman were apparently not fooled. They told Pakistan’s The Nation newspaper that they witnessed it flying for two hours before the accident.
While unusual, bird-like UAVs are not a new concept. In the early 1970s, the CIA implemented Project Aquiline, a scheme devised to fly an eagle-like reconnaissance UAV over key intelligence targets, such as ICBM sites and nuclear test grounds in the Soviet Union and China. Although a prototype made some 20 flights over Groom Lake, Nevada, the project was canceled due to the expected high cost of further development.