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FAS Project on Intelligence Reform


The Pointer Hand Launched system is a low-cost reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle designed to support maneuver battalion commanders or other users needing a short range "eye in the sky." This aircraft is powered by a 300-watt electric motor with a folding pusher propeller. The flight control system consists of an uplink which only allows a range of about 5-7 kilometers from the ground control unit. It is made of composite materials and is easily assembled from six parts which are interchangeable with other air vehicles. It has a 9 feet wingspan and a 6 feet fuselage length. Its total takeoff weight, with payload, is 8.5 pounds. It currently carries a payload of either a color TV camera, or a black and white low-light-level TV camera, which provide real-time, high resolution video imagery. This hand launched system performs numerous close-in reconnaissance and surveillance missions without endangering ground personnel. Itís small size and battery driven engine make it very difficult to see or hear. Missions are relatively short, normally lasting one hour or less. The aircraft is under positive control by the three-person ground crew and possesses no autonomous capability.

The positive aspects of Pointer include its low cost, rapid response time, minimal crew, and limited logistics burden to the Field Commander. The system has the flexibility to provide real-time video to the front echelon Commander during hours of daylight. However, the negative aspects of the system are also significant. The "users" have determined that it needs an improved navigational and night imagery capability. Currently the system provides video only during daylight and twilight hours.

A Pointer package includes a 3-man operations team, 3 UAVs, and a man-portable ground control station. In order to keep a Pointer UAV airborne for the duration of a typical mission, the three-man ground team is in a state of constant launch, control, and recovery. If they come under hostile fire while servicing the UAVs, launch and recoveries may be delayed or terminated until it is relatively safe to resume operations. If the system is located safely in the rear, there is insufficient flight time to get to the enemy location, survey the area, and return before the batteries run out. The Pointer is so small that increased payload size may never be possible. Advances in miniaturization are needed before additional features and functions are added to increase the capability of the vehicle. Without a night imagery capability this aircraft will have limited "real world" uses.

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Created by John Pike
Maintained by Steven Aftergood

Updated Saturday, November 27, 1999 10:43:06 AM