Predators over Iraq piloted by troops at base near Las Vegas

Military Tech

Warriors in Southern Nevada are fighting the war in Iraq every from Creech Air Force Base, north of Las Vegas, using global satellites to fly Predator spy planes overseas. Investigative reporter George Knapp reports the brains behind the program have a bunch of other surprises in the works, too. Aired on Feb. 24, 2005 on KLAS TV in Las Vegas. First of 2 Parts.

In tiny Indian Springs, Nevada, the telltale signs of civic pride aren’t hard to spot. a Predator sandwich is a hot item on the lunch menu and Predator chips are for sale in the casino cage. It’s no exaggeration to say that the work under way at this small Air Force Base is revolutionizing warfare.

As Air Force Col. Larry Felder puts it, “So we’re swackin’ the bad guys every day.”

Air Force Col. Larry Felder. (KLAS_TV)

Felder isn’t speaking metaphorically. When he talks about whacking bad guys he means real whacking being done from right here in Southern Nevada. It’s no secret that the Predator UAV, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, has been headquartered at Indians Springs for several years. The base is the premier training site for airmen who pilot the gangly flying robots. Many of them end up on the front lines overseas. But for some, the front line is in Las Vegas.

“I’m looking at the ground battle unfold over Iraq and the cities and the fighting on the street,” an airman says.

Using computers and satellites. Nellis personnel are able to pilot Predator craft flying over Iraq and Afghanistan.

In its early years, Predator was used strictly for reconnaissance, a spy plane. But it’s evolved into a far more important piece of machinery. Its sophisticated cameras can not only track and identify the enemy from above, but its Hellfire missiles can rain death on those who have it coming.

The Nellis team knows that every day their Predators are saving the lives of American troops: “You are being able to prevent somebody potentially with weapons from being able to shoot and injure any of our troops.”

“And of course, today it’s mainstream,” Felder said. “I mean, you remember Baghdad Bob? You know, we took him out. Boom!”

Col. Felder takes special pride in what the Predator has become. He’s the Commander of the Air Force’s UAV battle lab — basically, a think tank that comes up with new ideas for a whole family of flying robots. It was Felder’s team of brainiacs that first put missiles on Predators. They were instrumental in the development of backpack UAVs that can be tossed toward danger zones from which they send back streaming video.

“Pull those puppies out and throw them,” Felder said.

And now the battle lab has another biggie in the works. They were asked if Predators could be used to help detect hidden explosives, the kind being used in Iraq to blow up American convoys. Back in December, a demonstration was staged at Indian Springs. New software attached to the Predator allowed ground troops to spot buried explosives before they could detonate. The UAV served as an escort for the test convoy, was able to spot potential attackers, and the troops did the rest.

“Tracked them all, found them all, and eliminated them all. Enemy deaths were six, friendly deaths were zero,” Felder said.

This lifesaving technology could be in use in Iraq by year’s end. Col. Felder wouldn’t confirm it, but admits Predator could be used in the search for certain persons hiding in Afghanistan. Predator can loiter in the air for 40 hours or more and its cameras can see everything.

Predators have the potential to participate in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. (KLAS-TV)

“From 10,000 feet in IR you can read the license plate off of the car that’s driving by,” an airman said.

Lately Iran is complaining that something like a Predator has been spying on its nuclear facilities. Could Iran’s UFOs be UAVs flown from Nellis? Hypothetically speaking?

“That particular area, I can’t talk about. But yes, they probably could be used in that realm,” Felder said.

UAV technology already has come a long way but seems poised to make another big jump. Would you believe flying robots the size of insects and other pilotless craft as big as a stealth fighter?

NEXT STORY: Predator, next generation UAVs opening new doors for Air Force — Part 2

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