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Backpack UAVs and similar systems are now in service in their thousands.
Many mini-UAVs today follow the Pointer model, sharing a few key features. They are small enough to be backpack-carried and hand-launched, and can be in the air within minutes of a decision to fly. They have an endurance of about an hour, and operate up to 10 km from their launch point - enough to provide useful early warning of an attack by land vehicles or troops on foot. Light and with a low wing loading, they can recover without a net or a parachute.
The biggest prospective mini-UAV programme in the US is the US Army's Small UAV (SUAV), a planned successor to the AeroVironment Raven. The US Army is looking to lead a joint-service SUAV programme, and requirements point to a hand-launched vehicle, carried by a maximum of two people, with a 90 min endurance. The service could select a winner as early as this year.
Experience in Iraq has boosted interest in small UAVs and led to a massive increase in their use by US forces - which previously used no more than a few Pointers. Defending fixed and moving targets against insurgents requires systems which can operate close enough to potential attackers to spot either visual or movement indications that they are hostile, but which can also get out far enough from the target to see behind obstacles and provide warnings in time to take action. Hand-launched UAVs have been compared to a pair of long-distance binoculars that can see behind hills.