June 27, 2012:
When the U.S. pulls most of its forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, over a hundred large (Predator, Reaper, Global Hawk) U.S. Air Force UAVs will go with them. Most of these will not go back to the United States. There is great demand for these UAVs in South America and the Pacific.
In Colombia, American intelligence advisors are eager to have these large UAVs to track drug gang and leftist rebel operations. Colombian troops see the UAVs as a way to track down the remaining leftist rebel leaders and locate well hidden cocaine operations. The U.S. Air Force has new sensors they believe can detect hidden camps and drug operations hidden in tropical woodlands. These sensors have been successful in forested areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In the Pacific American advisors in the Philippines want to bring the same kind of surveillance to seek out Islamic terrorists and leftist rebels there. In South Korea UAVs can fly just south of the DMZ (the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea) and see many kilometers into North Korea. Global Hawk UAVs fly at 20,000 meters altitude and can see into most of North Korea, for hours at a time. Even though all these UAVs will stay out of North Korean air space, the North Koreans have an extensive (although antiquated) air defense system and a well-deserved reputation for aggressiveness. For the U.S. Air Force this would be an opportunity to test UAV defensive measures for operating in more hostile environments.
Meanwhile, Afghan security forces are not looking forward to losing all their UAV support. Some of the large American UAVs will remain behind, including the CIA ones that hunt down and kill terrorist leaders across the border in Pakistan. But the current plan is to remove over a hundred of these UAVs from the region. A few will return to the United States to assist in training airmen who operate and maintain these aircraft. But most will continue on to other overseas hotspots where their services are needed.