The hand-launched Puma drones are being increasing used in Afghanistan to track and destroy militants trying to plant roadside bombs, the key killer of U.S. and allied troops. While the tiny, battery-powered, prop-driven drone is unarmed, it relays what it sees via a video link to its human ground controller up to several miles away. The controller can then call up an air strike if needed.
The demand for the drones is so high, their operators are working around the clock. "In a combat environment, usually it turns into kind of like a `Groundhog Day' for our guys, because they're constantly flying," says Army Chief Warrant Office Scott Warr. "It's usually a 12-hour shift, and it could be that PFC 18-year-old out there flying the aircraft on a daily basis for a year or so." The 13-pound (5.9 kg) Puma, with an 8.5-ft. (2.6-m) wingspan, is built by AeroVironment of Simi Valley, Calif.
For the inside story on America's military operations around the world, check out Mark Thompson's blog, Battleland: Where military intelligence is not a contradiction in terms.