Leadership: You Can't Take The Sky From Me


July 2, 2007: The battle, between the U.S. Army and Air Force, over who controls the air space over the battlefield, continues to heat up. What's happened, in effect, is that that, because of UAVs and smart bombs, most of the aircraft over the battlefield belong to the army. As a result, the army wants to have control over that air space, even though, traditionally, the air force has been in charge. The army is pushing the fact that most of the aerial vehicles (UAVs, helicopters, artillery shells, rockets) at low altitudes (under 20,000 feet) are army. For example, the army currently has over 1,300 UAVs in Iraq, over 200 helicopters, and dozens of rocket launchers and 155mm guns. In effect, over 95 percent of the aircraft at low altitudes belong to the army. It makes no sense to have the air force calling the shots. To handle all this traffic, the army has developed an air traffic control system (TAIS, or Tactical Airspace Integration System) which uses a laptop screen to show all air traffic in a several hundred square kilometer area. TAIS systems cost about $3 million each, and draws data from many sources, to allow army commanders to have a 3-D view of what's up there. The army has TAIS link to air force ATC (air traffic control), but the air force attitude is that they have always called the shots over who does what up there, and that's the way it should stay.

To further inflame relations, the air force keeps pushing to take control of developing all larger UAVs (that operate at above 10,000 feet). This would include the army's new Warrior (literally, Predator Lite) UAV. The army has dug in its heels on this one, and has shipped over 30 TAIS systems to Iraq and Afghanistan, to stake its claim on air space control.

The air force has never considered itself just a "support service" for the army (although that has always been the army attitude). However, smart bombs have made it appear that most of what the air force does is just fly in circles, dropping smart bombs where and when the army guys down below call for them. The air force pilots are eager and willing to come down low to use their cannon, or fly around for hours using their targeting pods to look for the enemy on the ground. But the air force brass are not too keen on risking their expensive fighters that close to hostile heavy machine-guns. Nor are the air force generals satisfied that all that targeting pod use is worth the effort.

So despite the fact that the air force and the army are working together more effectively than they have in decades, the disputes are also more heated than they have been for a long time.


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