U.S. Air Force generals were not
happy recently when their boss, the Secretary of Defense, publically chastised
them for not getting enough of their Predator UAVs into the air over Iraq and
Afghanistan, where they could do the combat troops on the ground the most good.
The air force promptly ordered more Predators into the combat zone, and began
flying more sorties, which soon doubled the hours Predators were in the air.
payback time. The air force has deployed pundits pointing out that more
Predators in the air is not the problem, but a "common picture" of what is on
the ground, and what is in the air. The air force is using the situation to
call again for them to be given control of all large (roughly twenty pounds or
more) UAVs. This would enable the air force to standardize sensors, and data
collected, so there would be a common picture.
force also wants all UAVs to play by manned aircraft rules. That means filing a
flight plan with the air force before taking off. The air force is insistent about
this because all army UAVs lack transponders, so it is difficult for manned
aircraft, or air force air controllers,
to spot UAVs, and avoid collisions. From the air force point of view,
this all works. Army helicopters and air force combat aircraft can get to where
they are needed quickly and safely.
ground combat officers see it differently. For the guys on the ground, the UAVs
have become a matter of life and death, and they often don't know in advance
when they will need them. To the soldiers, the UAV is no more of an obstacle to
other aircraft than artillery shells and stray bullets. The air force (and army
helicopters) have long since learned how to coexist with shells and bullets. So
why not use the same rules for UAVs? The air force is adamant that the UAVs
have to eventually get transponders (which may take a while for under ten pound
UAVs), and continue to play by the rules used for manned aircraft. The air
force takes additional heat because there have not been any UAV collisions with
their aircraft (which tend to stay above altitudes used by army UAVs), and
those that have occurred were between army helicopters and small UAVs. No
injuries yet, but the potential is there.
commanders also point out that they are exposed to all sorts of firepower on
the ground, while the air force hardly takes any casualties at all. That is
only important insofar as restrictions on the use of army UAVs does not make
air force people any safer, but does put more soldiers in danger. The ground
troops really, really want to use their UAVs freely. When American forces
entered Iraq in 2003, they brought fewer than two dozen UAVs with them. Now
there are over a thousand in service.
is also not as concerned with a "common picture" as is the air force. The vast
majority of army UAVs are the five pound Ravens, which are only concerned with
what is beneath them. Combat commanders depend on these micro-UAVs to run
battles. Raven provides all the information they need, and the last thing they
want is air force involvement.
force has been trying to play nice by providing data communications gear that
enables army troops to view Predator video in real time. That's sometimes even
helpful. But the army is building their own Predators (Predator C, or "Sky
Warrior"). It's all about control. In the heat of battle, the army does not
want to be forced to go through the air force bureaucracy to get access to a
"common picture" problem is a separate thing entirely. Also called data fusion,
it has more to do with intelligence collection and analysis on a larger scale.
The army is mostly concerned with winning battles, and that's where they see
controlling their own UAVs as essential.
air force is really worried about is not getting chastised by the boss, but
being put out of a job by new technology. The UAVs take away the original job
for the air force, air reconnaissance. Now smart bombs have made it so easy to
deliver accurate firepower to the ground troops that even the new army Predator
can drop them.