Leadership: USAF Coup Thwarted


September 18, 2007: The battle for control of military UAVs in the United States is over, and the U.S. Air Force has lost. The USAF attempted to gain control of UAV development for all the services. Naturally, all the other services, especially the army and marines, violently opposed this move. As a concession, the air force offered to leave out micro-UAVs (defining them as any UAV that cannot operate higher than 1,000 meters, or about 3,300 feet). That meant the troops on the ground could keep the thousand of micro (under ten pound) UAVs they have been using lately. But the other services wanted to retain control over the design and procurement of larger UAVs as well.

The air force is not done, however. The USAF is still in charge of air traffic control over the battlefield, and wants to get UAVs equipped with electronic devices that would make it easier to avoid collisions. There are already some new systems that attempt to do that. What the other services want to avoid is another layer of bureaucracy they have to go through in order to get things done in combat. The air force control systems, like the Air Tasking Order (ATO), are resented by the other services, even though the air force has hustled to update the ATO and make it more efficient.

The real problem is that technology is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. Smart bombs, UAVs, new sensors and improved software have radically changed the way the air force does business in the last decade. The air force sees UAVs as the aircraft of the future and wants to play a leading role in how that plays out. This is the second attempt, in the last two years, by the air force, to grab control of UAV development. But the other services have their own air forces, and want to find their own way. The senior leadership agreed with that, and now the air force has to roll out their Plan B, whatever it is.




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