Tiny electric robot planes skylark in Iraq

The Australian Defence Force is to send four, tiny robot planes to Iraq to provide protection and support to troops serving on the ground with the Al Muthanna Task Group (AMTG).

Known as mini-UAVs (miniature unmanned aerial vehicles), the aircraft will provide a range of video and still digital imagery for troops on the ground, in addition to sensory data and communications data.

The Department of Defence is keeping details of the aircraft's computing and communications technology under wraps for operational reasons.

Dubbed "Skylark" by its Israeli manufacturer Elbit Systems, the aircraft are small enough to fit into a backpack and can be shoulder-launched by a soldier. Data and video can then be sent back to a command post or to a ruggedized laptop carried by the operator in the field.

The aircraft also carry an electric rather than a liquid fuel motor which the manufacturer claims offers the tactical advantages of nearly silent running when airborne - particularly useful in situations where people below are likely to shoot at the aircraft.

Defence Minister Robert Hill, a known UAV 'tragic', said the "the new, intelligent and largely autonomous systems will in the future be able to carry out hazardous tasks traditionally reserved for warfighters which will reduce exposure and risks to Australian Defence Force personnel".

The current Iraq deployment represents the second publicly acknowledged active service deployment of UAVs by the Australian Defence Force. Two larger, petrol-powered UAV's, manufacturered by Australian company Aerosonde, were sent to the Solomon Islands as part of Operation "Helpem Fren" in 2003.

Video footage of the aircraft is available at: http://www.defence.gov.au/media/download/2005/nov/20051101s.cfm

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