06/16/04 — Pelican turns Predator

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Pelican turns Predator

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 16, 2004 2:01 PM

KENANSVILLE -- A "Pelican" landed Thursday afternoon at the Duplin County Municipal Airport to take part in a two-week military exercise.

The Pelican, which is really a Cessna 337 plane, is equipped to act like a Predator.

The Predator is a remote-control plane equipped with cameras to spy on enemy troops and go places where it is too dangerous to send military personnel.

The Pelican is only used for training purposes to simulate the Predator, and it is flown by a pilot. But it has the same cameras as the Predator, which has been used in Afghanistan and Iraq to locate the enemy in the war on terrorism.

The Pelican will be used in training operations that will involve all branches of services as well as foreign countries. It comes to Duplin County from the Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Studies, a research center at the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, Calif.

Program Manager Ray Jackson with the California Institute of Technology, which operates the research center, handles the plane.

"The unmanned aerial vehicle is used for three reasons: 'dull, dirty and dangerous,'" said Jackson.

It goes where a man might be shot down. You send it in if you suspect any chemical or biological contamination. "And," he adds, "you can't send a man up to fly around for 44 hours."

Called the Pelican because of its long nose, the plane flew over Clinton on Monday and Tuesday to take pictures on the ground using three cameras: one for day video; another for infrared, which allows night vision; and the third is a "spotter" that zooms in on targets.

The plane's movements are monitored from the ground by people inside a small trailer beside the Pelican's hangar. Next to it are two tracking antennae, one ground data terminal that relays signals to and from the bird, and a satellite antenna so the other bases can listen.

The plane will be flown out of the airport until June 21. Jackson said the operations will move out on June 23.

In the place of the left seat of the Pelican is a computer that simulates all of the systems on the Predator. The cameras are in a "sky ball" under the extended nose. The engine has been removed from the front and replaced with a larger one in the rear.

The people involved in the exercise represent several branches of the military service, and other military bases are doing their own exercises coordinated with this one.

The three-week exercise, sponsored by the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, involves 28,000 U.S. and Allied Service troops throughout the southeastern United States. Virtual participants will join the exercise from 20 different sites as far away as Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., and Fort Bliss, Texas. Participating in the exercise are forces from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Peru, Norway, Italy, Denmark and France.

Military officials say it's a historic event that is testing how well the Joint National Training Capability is integrating live, virtual and computer-simulated training. The exercise is designed to provide high-quality, realistic training to prepare U.S. forces for joint and combined operations. Joint operations are between military branches of service, and combined operations are between countries.

A statement released by Joint Forces Command says the exercise provides realistic combat training and offers an adaptive and credible opposing force. It establishes a common ground truth and gives high-quality feedback. It presents U.S. and multinational forces with realistic scenarios.

"This exercise provides all participants with invaluable experience in joint and coalition operations," said Vice Adm. Gary Roughead, commander of the U.S. Second Fleet and Striking Fleet Atlantic. He is the commander of the joint task force that is conducting the exercise.

Roughead said that achieving and maintaining more agile, responsive and connected forces "means we must train efficiently and effectively. We're challenging all assumptions, and this advanced joint training does exactly that."