Navy, Marines to build 12-inch spy plane

San Diego — Remember those balsawood airplanes powered by mini gasoline engines that delighted small boys and girls before the electronics revolution? The Navy and Marine Corps want to field a high-tech version of that toy plane as a battlefield reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Jerry Hultin, undersecretary of the Navy, speaking here at West 2000, the annual Navy-focused conference sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the U.S. Naval Institute, said top leaders from the Navy and Marine Corps have signed off on development of a 12-inch UAV with a one-pound payload to serve as the airborne eyes of future Marine and Naval operations.

Hultin said the Navy certainly doesn't intend to use balsawood, but an updated version of that lightweight substance to build the UAV. The two services are still working out the details, but Hultin said the initial sensor payload would probably consist of a video camera plus global positioning systems with geo-location capabilities.

Hultin emphasized that the Navy has "no intention of gold plating" the mini-UAV, estimating that each would cost no more than $10,000.

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