Unmanned Aircraft Systems Growing In Importance for Army

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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (WHNT) - Once upon a time, they were unmanned aerial vehicles.   Now they're officially described as unmanned aircraft systems.

Most of you probably call them drones.  However you refer to them, they're becoming more and more prevalent in our high-tech world.

You may have heard how Amazon has plans to deliver packages using remote-controlled aerial vehicles.  So who really believes that will actually happen?

SSgt. Jason Brinton, U.S. Army "I think it's years away, but eventually I'd say it's inevitable," says U.S. Army SSgt. Jason Brinton.  His statement means something.  He can operate all six of the Army's unmanned aircraft.

The Puma is one. The hand-launched aircraft weighs just 13 pounds and can fly for some two hours.  It's primarily used for reconnaissance, and the view from the Puma is pretty impressive.

"It allows them to look around and see if there's any troops coming in their direction," said Lieutenant Colonel Nick Kioutas. "It allows them to make assessments and it also helps in planning."

That's exactly what unmanned aircraft did in Iraq, and what they're doing right now in Afghanistan.  The Army has some 7,000 unmanned aircraft systems flying.  They range from the four-and-a-half-pound Raven to the 3,600-pound Gray Eagle.

It's hard to believe there used to be doubts about this important Army asset.

"There was originally some resistance, I think to new ideas as there always is to new ideas, but once we got some systems out there and proved they were capable, I think, once you saw that happen there was a lot of demand from the field," said LTC Kioutas.

And so the Army's unmanned component grew.

For the soldiers who operate them, there's a real sense of doing something important.

"Being able to give these guys on the ground the advantage that the enemy does not have," said SSgt. Jason Brinton.

Knowing where the enemy is in any combat situation is a big deal.

"Do unmanned aircraft systems save lives?" we asked.  "Absolutely," replied LTC Kioutas.

Does the Army plan to field more and better unmanned aircraft systems -- absolutely.
And as far as that civilian effort to use the unmanned aircraft...

"Do you think you'll ever have a package delivered to your house by an unmanned vehicle?" WHNT News 19 asked.

"I believe so, I really do," LTC Kioutas replied.

One final note on the Army's unmanned aircraft systems.  From 1991 to 2010, the aircraft logged their first million flight hours.  Early this coming spring, they'll hit the 2,000,000 flight hour mark.

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