The military's reliance on unmanned aircraft that can watch, hunt and sometimes kill insurgents has soared to more than 500,000 hours in the air, largely in Iraq, the Associated Press reports.


The Pasadena Star-News writes that a bulk of the unmanned flight hours belong to the Army's workhorse drone, the Raven, made by Monrovia-based AeroVironment Inc. The Raven models, which weigh just four pounds, will clock in about 300,000 hours this year - double the time they were used last year, said Army Col. Bob Quackenbush, deputy director for Army Aviation.

The Raven is flung into the air by soldiers and used for surveillance by smaller units, such as companies and battalions, in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The dramatic increase in the development and use of drones across the armed services reflects what will be an even more aggressive effort over the next 25 years, according to a new Defense Department report.


"I think right now the demand for the capability that the unmanned system provides is only increasing," Quackenbush said. "Even as the surge ends, I suspect the deployment of the unmanned systems will not go down, particularly for larger systems."


The report brings good news for AeroVironment, according to industry analyst Patrick McCarthy of Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co.


It "bodes well for their long-term demand" that service branches are making more extensive use of unmanned surveillance aircraft, McCarthy said.

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