2. Mission Characteristics

a. Search and Surveillance

1. Dwell. The Predator system is most effective when it is tasked to observe known targets or to investigate cueing from another intelligence asset. The strengths of the system are in its ability to provide a long dwell "staring" capability and to provide NRT video and imagery to a wide variety of users. Predator is less effective when tasked to conduct missions that would require wide area search over extended periods of time.

2. Speed. The advantages of Predator's low airspeed are the capability to dwell for extended periods of time in the immediate vicinity of a target, the ability to accompany and escort land and naval convoys, and the ability to evade avoid engagement by certain SAM threats. The drawback to the low airspeed is the long transit time required to reach target areas. Due to the slow airspeed of the UAV, consideration should be given to sequentially planning targets in the same geographic area or along a logical flight profile.

3. Types of Surveillance. Examples of pre-planned surveillance missions include observation of road and rail networks, possible ballistic missile launch sites, troop assembly areas, and troop movements. The Predator can also monitor choke points, corridors, road intersections, airfields, and similar sites. The important point to remember when tasking the system for a particular target is to provide as much information about the target and the information requirements concerning that target as possible. This allows the payload operator to scan the area with a specific purpose in mind vice just taking "best guess" snapshots and hoping that the analysts can determine what was sought. The Predator Intelligence Liaison Officer should interface with the tasking agency to obtain the details of target information if this is not self-explanatory, and publish amplifying details in the Air Tasking Order.

b. Targeting, Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) and Reconnaissance

The Predator may also perform as a target acquisition platform that can acquire targets, confirm that targets are still in place, assist in fire direction, and provide immediate feedback of results to shooters. In this mode, the NRT video must be continually monitored and the video observer should have direct contact with the shooter. During the weapons delivery phase, the Predator can move to a loiter area or use altitude separation to deconflict with strike aircraft or other weapons systems. At the conclusion of the strike, the Predator can then return to the target area and provide NRT video of the battle damage.

c. Other Missions

During the course of the Predator ACTD, numerous missions for the Predator system were demonstrated. Predator supported topographic and beach surveys plus conducted route reconnaissance, with NRT video or still imagery, for both conventional and special operations forces.

Other demonstrated applications of Predator for Special Operations Forces (SOF) included imagery of potential landing zones and checking camouflage of deployed teams. Additionally, in several exercise settings, Predator cross-cued special forces against specific mobile targets to reduce the time that SOF teams were exposed in unfriendly territory.

The Predator also supported search and rescue missions and could assist in tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel missions. The tasking authority should be aware that the extended loiter time of the air vehicle, if detected, may cause the enemy to focus attention on the very area where the missing personnel are hiding or evading. The Predator offers the rescue mission commander the opportunity to conduct route reconnaissance immediately prior to the ingress of recovery forces. Variations on this mission may be using the Predator to support or conduct deceptive thrusts to divert attention from the actual recovery effort.

d. Employment Considerations

The Predator with its long dwell time is excellent for point surveillance of a single target such as an airfield or monitoring a geographic area such as a choke point. Due to the relatively narrow field of view of the optical systems and the low altitude at which the vehicle often flies, the system is more effective when cued against targets than when operating in a wide area search mode. However, if visual reconnaissance of a limited-width corridor is desired, continuous observation of NRT video can provide this capability. One concept explored at the CAOC was to seat the relevant all-source intelligence analyst(s) in front of the Predator NRT video feed during the time Predator was over a designated target area to monitor, evaluate, "frame grab", and "analyze" the imagery. The vehicle could be used for route reconnaissance missions or to observe zones of separation that are a few kilometers in width. It is not suitable, however, for observation of hundreds of point targets within such a zone. As previously mentioned, because of relatively low flight altitudes and a limited field of view for the sensors, the Predator is not optimized to be a wide-area reconnaissance system.

The ability to track mobile targets with the Predator provides the commander with a new capability. However, there is a danger that this valuable resource can be tied up tracking a decoy vehicle. Exclusive use or heavy dependence upon Predator NRT video imagery provides the enemy a relatively cheap means of deception which can tie up the system against targets of little or no value. To some extent, this can be countered by employing Predator as part of an integrated reconnaissance and surveillance plan.