A relic of the Cold War era is nothing of the kind, as the US military increasingly uses its aging fleet of high altitude U2 spy planes to conduct real-time surveillance in Afghanistan. Retrofitted with modern electronics, the U2 and its pilot can monitor the battlefield, provide crucial communications to troops on the ground, and even intercept enemy communications. But some of the plane’s old-fangled tech still provides a big reward.
The U2, which first flew in 1955, still carries its powerful film cameras, which provide such high resolution that Marines used photos to detect and neutralize 150 possible below-ground IEDs ahead of the recent assault on Marjah. Health risks to pilots, who don space suits to fly 9- to 12-hour sorties at 70,000 feet, and a new generation of drones could soon make the plane obsolete. But for now, an officer tells the New York Times “the U2 is in its prime again. It can do things that nothing else can do." (Read more spy plane stories.)