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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 20:10 GMT
Spies in the sky over Macedonia
French troops setting up a slow drone called a Crecerelle on a mission over Kosovo
Drones like this French Crecerelle were used over Kosovo
The United States and France have said they will send unmanned spy planes - known as drones - to monitor the situation in Macedonia.

But neither country has plans to send additional ground troops to the region.

The United Nations Security Council has urged Nato to step up efforts to prevent the smuggling of weapons across the border from Kosovo.
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Donald Rumsfeld: US will deploy drones

The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, on Thursday approved the movement of two or three Predator spy planes to the region.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral Craig Quigly said about 80 people will operate and maintain them.

The planes are due to arrive in about a week and could be based in Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia or Hungary.

Kosovo role

During the Kosovo conflict some Predator aircraft were based in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, and Tuzla in Bosnia.

The BBC Defence Correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, says unmanned aircraft are most useful in providing real-time photographic images of an area.

"During the Kosovo conflict a Predator was able to relay pictures of Serb aircraft taking off from Pristina airport via a link at a British airforce base to the Pentagon and then on to Nato command in southern Italy, all within 90 seconds," he says.


They do not fly as fast as conventional aircraft and so are easier to shoot down

Jonathan Marcus, BBC Defence Correspondent

However, it is not clear yet what information the Americans will offer Nato or the Macedonian authorities.

Unmanned aircraft are one of the key technologies in future conflicts and more and more countries are adding them to their arsenals.

But they are vulnerable.

Nato lost more than 20 unmanned surveillance aircraft during 78-days of operation in Kosovo.

Jonathan Marcus says: "They do not fly as fast as conventional aircraft and so are easier to shoot down; they are also susceptible to bad weather."

A downed drone is proudly display in a Belgrade museum dedicated to Nato hardware lost or captured during the Kosovo conflict.

However, they can provide bomb-damage assessment and in Kosovo they were used for the first time to designate a target in conflict.

There are also plans to equip them with weapons.

In February, the US successfully used unmanned aircraft to launch three Hellfire anti-tank missiles from an altitude of just under 700 metres at a test site in Nevada.

French boost

France has said it will send an unspecified number of CL 289 drones, plus 180 support staff, to observe the Kosovo-Macedonia border.

The CL 289 is faster than the Crecerelle drone used in Kosovo and has a slightly longer range, but can remain airborne for just 30 minutes.

Along with other Nato members, France has also agreed to provide technical assistance including night vision goggles, flak jackets and some vehicles.

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See also:

20 Mar 01 | Europe
Nato raises Macedonian profile
20 Mar 01 | Europe
The military balance
23 Mar 01 | Europe
In pictures: Death in Tetovo
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