Nato eye in the sky keeps Kosovo safe

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The Independent Online
UNITED STATES Air Force officers are flying unmanned Predator spy planes from a former Warsaw Pact airbase in Hungary to feed a stream of live video military intelligence to the Pentagon from the battlefields of Kosovo.

Although satellites and manned spy planes also feed intelligence back to Washington and Nato command, the Predators, based at Taszar, are the sole source of real-time video for Nato's Operation Eagle Eye.

"We're the only ones that can get full motion video - that's our key," said Sergeant Leo Glovka. "From five to ten miles away I can see people and what they are doing."

From an altitude of between 15,000 and 20,000 feet the camera in the 27ft-long aircraft zoomed in on a Hungarian village to show a male pedestrian wearing a beige coat and carrying a white plastic bag.

The $3.4m (pounds 2.1m) spy-planes are Nato's answer to threats by Serb nationalist leaders to down Western airplanes flying over Kosovo. They are a mainstay of Operation Eagle Eye, which monitors Serb compliance with the UN resolutions that demand a military pull-back from Kosovo.

Each Predator has a two-man team - the pilot and the sensor operator, who controls the cameras and the flow of information. The pilot uses computer controls to adjust the aircraft's speed, altitude and direction as it penetrates deep into hostile territory. The information is bounced by satellite to Molesworth airbase in Britain, and sent on to the Pentagon.

The Predators cannot defend themselves if they come under fire, relying on the skill of the pilot back at base. But the next generation of unmanned planes is likely to have weapons attached.

Operation Eagle Eye and the possibility of Nato intervention in neighbouring Serbia have highlighted the complications of expanding the alliance into post-communist eastern Europe.

C-130 transporter planes take off from Taszar on logistics and supply missions to the S-FOR peace-keeping troops in Bosnia, and if Nato ever launched large- scale intervention in Kosovo, Taszar would be a vital staging post for the alliance. With the Czech Republic and Poland, Hungary is set to join Nato next April.