Pioneer UAV Inc. RQ-2A Pioneer UAV

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Type: Military

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Information on the RQ-2A Pioneer UAV

In the 1980s, U.S. military operations in Grenada, Lebanon, and Libya identified a need for an on-call, inexpensive, unmanned, over-the-horizon targeting, reconnaissance, and battle damage assessment (BDA) capability for local commanders. As a result, in July 1985, the Secretary of the Navy directed the expeditious acquisition of UAV systems for fleet operations using nondevelopmental technology. A competitive fly-off was conducted and two Pioneer systems were procured in December 1985 for testing during 1986. Initial system delivery was made in July 1986 and subsequently deployed on the battleship USS Iowa (BB 61) in December 1986. During 1987, three additional systems were delivered to the Marine Corps where they were operationally deployed on board LHA-class vessels as well as with several land-based units. The system became a genuine joint service program in 1990 when the U.S. Army fielded their Pioneer system.

Pioneer's operational history includes 13 years of service and its unprecedented success during Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Army, Navy and Marine Corps commanders lauded Pioneer's operational effectiveness, as six operational units from three services flew over 300 combat missions. The documented success of Pioneer in supporting combat operations and providing the battlefield commander critical intelligence information established the utility and importance of UAVs in combat. Pioneer was highly praised as the "single most valuable intelligence collector in the Marine Expeditionary Force. Navy Pioneer UAVs were extremely successful in target selection, spotting naval gunfire, and battle damage assessment (BDA) when Iowa's 16-inch guns destroyed enemy targets and softened defenses along the Kuwaiti coastline.

Desert Shield/Storm Anecdote
The surrender of Iraqi troops to an unmanned aerial vehicle did actually happen. All of the UAV units at various times had individuals or groups attempt to signal the Pioneer, possibly to indicate willingness to surrender. However, the most famous incident occurred when USS Missouri (BB 63), using her Pioneer to spot 16 inch gunfire, devastated the defenses of Faylaka Island off the coast near Kuwait City. Shortly thereafter, while still over the horizon and invisible to the defenders, the USS Wisconsin (BB 64) sent her Pioneer over the island at low altitude. When the UAV came over the island, the defenders heard the obnoxious sound of the two-cycle engine since the air vehicle was intentionally flown low to let the Iraqis know that they were being targeted. Recognizing that with the "vulture" overhead, there would soon be more of those 2,000-pound naval gunfire rounds landing on their positions with the same accuracy, the Iraqis made the right choice and, using handkerchiefs, undershirts, and bedsheets, they signaled their desire to surrender. Imagine the consternation of the Pioneer aircrew who called the commanding officer of Wisconsin and asked plaintively, "Sir, they want to surrender, what should I do with them?"

The Navy has deployed Pioneer on four battleships and five amphibious LPD ships supporting worldwide operations in Africa, Northern Europe, the North Atlantic, the Western Pacific, Korea, the Mediterranean, and contingency operations in the Arabian Gulf. The Marine Corps has successfully integrated Pioneer support with Weapons and Tactics exercises (WTIs), Kernel Blitz exercises, and US Customs Service operations supporting drug interdiction missions.

Program Status
The Navy modified its fifth ship, USS Ponce to support Pioneer operations. In 1998, Pioneer accumulated more than 300 at-sea flight hours and was continuously deployed with cruises on USS Shreveport; USS Denver; USS Austin; and USS Cleveland. Key recent events include 15 Air Vehicle buy; Modular Integrated Avionics Group integration; and Tactical Control System integration. These efforts will ensure the viability of Pioneer until its replacement is fielded early in the next decade.


RQ-2A Pioneer UAV Specifications

General Characteristics
Primary Function: Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Targeting Acquisition (RSTA).
Contractor: Pioneer UAV Inc.
Date Deployed: December 1986 [USS Iowa (BB 61)]
Unit Cost: Under $1 million.
Propulsion: Reciprocating 2-stroke, 2-cylinder 26-hp gasoline engine.
Length: 14.0 ft (4.2672 meters).
Wingspan: 16.9 ft (5.15 meters).
Weight: Max design gross take-off: 416 pounds (188.69 kg).
Airspeed: 110 knots (109.37 mph, 176 kph).
Ceiling: 15,000 feet (4,572 meters).
Range: 100+ nautical miles (115+ statute miles, 185+ km).
Current Deployment: USS Austin (LPD-4); USS Shreveport (LPD-12); USS Denver (LPD-9); USS Cleveland (LPD-7); USS Ponce (LPD-15); USS Duluth (LPD-6); and VC-6 Detachment Patuxent River, MD.

The Pioneer UAV system performs a wide variety of reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and battle damage assessment missions. The UAV's low radar cross section, low infrared signature and remote control versatility provides a degree of cover for the aircraft. Pioneer provides the tactical commander with real-time images of the battlefield or target. Since first deployed as a land-based system in 1986, Pioneer is currently configured for operations on five LPD class ships with a sixth ship under modifications.