Cablegate: Uavs -- "Eyes in the Sky" for Colmil Operations
DE RUEHBO #1380/01 3542110
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 202110Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1470
INFO RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 8533
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ DEC LIMA 4595
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 9839
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 5253
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//USDP ADMIN/CHAIRS//
S E C R E T BOGOTA 011380
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/30/2016
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER MARR CO
SUBJECT: UAVS -- "EYES IN THE SKY" FOR COLMIL OPERATIONS
Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood
Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (S) Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are a low-tech,
low-cost, and low-risk but potentially high-impact new
addition to USG-GOC intelligence cooperation in support of
counterterror and counterdrug efforts. Since their arrival
in July, a test package of UAVs has provided valuable,
real-time aerial video reconnaissance and surveillance to
live COLMIL operations. The UAV program's principal
priorities are to support U.S. hostage rescue efforts and to
assist COLMIL pursuit of FARC leaders, but it promises to be
equally useful for combat against terrorists and in riverine
drug interdiction. As with all intelligence capabilities,
what matters most is its aggressive application by the COLMIL
in offensive action. End Summary.
Remote Control Aerial Surveillance
2. (C) "ScanEagle" is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that
transmits real-time video imagery as it overflies targets.
Just four feet long with a ten-foot wingspan, it is too small
to be seen or heard when cruising above 3000 feet, yet from
that height its camera zooms in clearly on vehicles and
structures below. Its operation is basic: a ground-based
'pilot' navigates with a 'joy stick' and keyboard; and a
technician launches and retrieves the craft without a runway
via a device operable in a clearing on land or ship.
Operating costs are low: each 40-pound craft is able to fly
or loiter up to 15 hours nonstop on 5.5 liters of fuel, has a
transmission range of nearly 70 miles, and can operate in
heavy winds and weather. (Detailed specs are publicly
available at: http://www.insitu.com/prod scaneagle.cfm.)
Job #1: Hostages and HVTs
3. (S) UAVs have proven useful before, during, and after
strikes against the FARC. In the planning stage, they
provide updated reconnaissance imagery of target sites
previously identified by human and signals intelligence.
Prior to launch, the COLAF deploys UAVs to target sites to
assess weather patterns before putting bombers in the air.
The UAVs then keep their cameras trained on targets to ensure
identification until planes arrive. Loitering UAVs give
commanders a real-time, bird's-eye view of COLMIL assaults,
enabling them to review pilots' accuracy and to provide
battle damage assessments. When inserting troops at enemy
sites, the COLAR uses the UAV for force protection and as a
lookout in case of anti-aircraft threats to its helicopters.
After strikes are over, UAVs can continue site surveillance,
watching for enemy survivors and their escape routes.
4. (S) UAVs are better suited to 'point' or 'line'
reconnaissance (pre-designated sites and structures or rivers
and roads) than to broad, ad hoc, 'area' sweeps. They are
meant to supplement but not substitute for humint / sigint
leads. Still, opportunistic events can occur. When a UAV
'pilot' flew by chance over a truck unloading FARC fighters,
and the COLAF happened to have a bomber available nearby, an
aerial assault was launched within 30 minutes. Similarly,
when a UAV caught two vehicles being loaded with coca, a
helicopter gunship was quickly dispatched and destroyed them.
Such stationary targets on open roads are good cases for UAV
use, whereas targets beneath jungle canopy impenetrable to
the human eye require more sophisticated platforms.
5. (S) UAVs are ideal for surveillance and interdiction of
drug traffic along river networks, especially in the border
regions of southern and eastern Colombia and along the
Pacific coast. A target can be fixed and followed
downstream, to be intercepted by COLMAR 'piranha' boats.
This optimizes the use of scarce riverine resources, enabling
them to nab a located target rather than to lie in wait for
the enemy or conduct open-ended river sweeps. In some cases
the COLMAR need not expend any of its resources. When a UAV
tracked a coca-loaded boat down river to a pier stop, the UAV
team alerted the local town police to board the boat and
search its cargo. Monitoring narco-boat movements and
stopping points can also direct counterdrug forces to
locations of coca caches (caletas).
Very Useful -- If Used Well
6. (C) UAVs offer a range of potential benefits to the
- Reduced risk to personnel: the UAV 'pilot' controls the
craft from the security of the base, with no risk of human
casualty or hostage capture.
- Expanded intelligence collection: overflight capability
accesses more remote areas, and stealth above 3000 feet
evades enemy detection.
- Force multiplier effect: conducting surveillance with an
unmanned craft frees up troops for offensive action.
- Asset optimization: low-tech 'drones' spare usage of more
high-maintenance assets like helicopters or piranha boats.
- Lower mission cost: UAVs are cheap to operate, maintain,
and fix compared to any other ISR platform.
7. (C) The COLMIL is in the process of developing joint
doctrine for the use of UAVs. At present, that doctrine is
in its infancy and is not yet included in the operational
commanders' planning process. Moreover, Colombian operators
still depend on support from Boeing coaches. U.S. training
will be extended until the Colombians become capable of
operating on their own. Additional training and effective
implementation of UAV capabilities will expand operational
and tactical intelligence exploitation opportunities, but an
effective outcome will require aggressive COLMIL action.