By Alan W. Dowd

The Drone War

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are becoming so central to U.S. efforts in the ungoverned territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan that some observers have dubbed this front of the War on Terror “the drone war.”

The Predator UAV, which transmits images and information via satellite to faraway command centers, has enabled U.S. forces to attack targets within minutes, rather than days. Retrofitted with Hellfire missiles, the Predator has struck targets in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. Its next-generation cousin, the Reaper, has weaponry grafted into its systems. Instead of just two Hellfires, the Reaper has 14 and flies higher and faster than the Predator.

An updated version of the Reaper, due to be deployed in 2010, will be equipped with the ominously named “Gorgon Stare,” which will give controllers and commanders the ability to eye a target from 12 different angles across a four-kilometer radius. As Air Force News explains, if 12 different terrorists scatter from a building in 12 different directions, “Gorgon Stare could dedicate one angle to each.”

According to an International Herald Tribune analysis, the Air Force deploys 195 Predators and 28 Reapers. The paper reports that while the Air Force is in charge of drone operations over Iraq and Afghanistan, the CIA takes the lead in Pakistan UAV operations.

The Air Force reports that Predators and Reapers attacked targets in 244 of their 10,949 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008, or about 2.2 percent of the time.

A Man of Duty

Army Maj. Steven Hutchison served his country in Vietnam but died in Iraq, where he was killed by a roadside bomb in May. The 60-year-old Hutchison is the oldest U.S. serviceman killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to an AP analysis.

In addition to Iraq and Vietnam, Hutchison served in Afghanistan. His Afghanistan and Iraq tours came after he reenlisted in 2007.

Rebirth in Baghdad

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed its rebuild of the AlwaiyaMaternityHospital in Baghdad. Before the renovation, the hospital had a 37-bed capacity. Today, it has a capacity of 344 beds, a pharmacy, operating rooms, a special neonatal ward, an ER and a nursery, as CENTCOM reports. The hospital serves more than a million Iraqi women.

All told, thanks to projects carried out by Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division, Iraq now has an annual capacity to treat 6.6 million inpatients (in hospitals) and another 4.6 million outpatients (in the national network of primary healthcare centers). Find out more at http://www.centcom.mil/.

Leave No Man Behind

The Australian military is in the process of exhuming hundreds of bodies near the northern French town of Fromelles, after it was discovered that Australian troops killed in a World War I battle had been buried in a mass grave and thus never given a proper burial.

CNN reports the troops were killed in a July 19, 1916, attack on heavily defended German positions. Some 2,300 British and Australian soldiers were killed in the battle, and an estimated 225 to 400 bodies are in the mass graves. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission calls it the “largest military find since the end of the Second World War.”

The disinterment, identification and reburial process should take 15 months, with the new graveyard and memorial scheduled to open on July 19, 2010, according to CNN.

A Hologram of Daddy

The Pentagon is exploring the use of computer-generated holograms to help families get through times when a loved when is deployed. As Time magazine reports, the Pentagon’s goal is to reassure and comfort children while their parents are away on active duty.

The Virtual Dialogue Application for Families of Deployed Service Members program is still in its early infancy, however, with the Pentagon awarding small contracts of $100,000 to no more than three firms to explore the feasibility of this computer-aided 3-D technology.

Goodbye, Humvee

The Pentagon is in the process of choosing the Humvee’s replacement. The next-generation small transport will be “a lighter, more agile tactical vehicle that can withstand roadside bombs and explosive devices,” according to an AP report. Among the other specs: the new vehicle will need to reach speeds of 90 mph, and it must be light enough for a C-130 to transport two. The Pentagon expects production on the new vehicle to begin in 2013.

As a contributing editor to The American Legion Magazine, Dowd writes columns and news briefs on national security, foreign affairs and U.S. politics each month for the magazine's "Rapid Fire" section.