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All photos in this dispatch made on March 1, 2010, at Kandahar Airfield.

Meanwhile, highly trained ground crews check, check, and recheck.  And then check again.  They checked so many times that it was hard to keep up.

Each of the two Warthogs carried 8x BLU LUU 19 IR (infrared) illumination flares, which can be used to help helicopters land on dark nights.  Our special operations helicopters don’t need any ambient light to fly in the dark.  They could fly in a cave if the cave were big enough.  But most of U.S. helicopters need some light to see the ground, and on nights too dark to fly (called “red illum” by the aviators), someone needs to light up the landing zone.  The helicopters can turn on their own IR lights, but it can be preferable to have artillery, mortars, or, say, Warthogs illuminate for you.

Each Warthog also carried 7x 2.75” White Phosphorous marking rockets; 2x GBU 38 satellite-guided 500lb bombs; 1x GBU 12 500lb LGB.  [GBU = Guided Bomb Unit; LGB = Laser Guided Bomb.]

Just before the aircraft goes to the runway, they arm the 30mm cannon (you have to stand out of the way just in case), and all the strange weapons.  The weapons specialists pull out the red tags and store the tags in the aircraft.

For the ground crews and pilots, mistakes are unacceptable.  Period.

Lt Col Tim Eddins: seems like he loves his job.

During his day job, Lt Col Eddins pilots Boeing 777 jets for United to places like China.  He said he likes traveling to China.

(Murphy and Eddins both fly for United.  It’s a comfort knowing so many military pilots are up front when your loved ones fly; remember when former Air Force pilot Chesley Sullenberger flew his A320 through a flock of birds and landed in the Hudson River?  He got everyone out alive.)

Red tags were off: pilots Murphy and Eddins were ready to roll.

They taxied to the nearby runway.

The Warthogs had to wait for a Reaper to roll by.  No telling where Mr. iRobot would fly to.  Do these go to Pakistan?  I have no idea, but it seems like you can’t read the news without seeing where these robots have hit more terrorists.  There was a time when the enemy thought terror was a one-way street.

This place has gotten to be like a hornet’s nest of Predators and Reapers.  A couple years ago, you’d see them every day, but now you can’t turn around without seeing an iRobot Terminator buzzing around to land or disappearing into the sunset or sunrise.

UAVs are very useful, but come with sharp limitations.  They are great hammers when you need a hammer, but they’re still hammers when you need a wrench.  For example, UAVs can’t guard bridges against suicide bombers.  They have limited, pinprick firepower other than for small targets.  They are useless in poor weather.  UAVs are but one sort of tool in a great big tool chest.

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