Faced with increasing hostility from China and Russia, the Pentagon intends to enhance its use of drones by about 50 per cent over the coming several years, using civilian contractors and the U.S. military to bolster flights operated by the Air Force.
The decision to include more civilian and military-operated missions in the mix was sparked because the U.S Air Force, which had been undertaking about 65 air patrol operations a day, requested to decrease the number to 60 because of overwhelming stress on the force.
Yet 60 operations per day is nowhere close to meeting the needs of U.S. armed forces chiefs as they look to meet ever-growing security hazards around the globe.
Leaders of the armed forces, including General Joseph Dunford, the inward bound chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, singled out Russia as the U.S’s most notable security threat.
Additionally, China’s growing military supremacy and island-construction program in the South China Sea added to the tensions and provoked a bigger demand for U.S. intelligence and surveillance across the Pacific.
One leading defense officer said Pentagon chiefs are seriously considering the security challenges as they make a decision on how both unarmed and armed drones will be employed across the Pacific and Europe.
The officials provided the information on condition of anonymity as they did not have the authority to talk about the issue in the public domain.
Pentagon chiefs have been fighting the issue for quite some time, as the need for more air raids and intelligence gathering by drones over Syria and Iraq to combat the ISIS offsets a decline in pilotless flights over Afghanistan as the battle there comes to an end.
Under the arrangement tabled by senior defense chiefs, the Air Force would keep on providing 60 drone missions on a daily basis, while US Special Operations Command and non-military contractors would execute up to 10 each and other military branches would perform about 16.
Speaking at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Air Force Major General and vice-commander of Air Combat Command J.D. Harris said, “It’s the combatant commanders, they need more. They’re tasked to do our nation’s business overseas so they feel that stress on them, and it’s not getting better.” He added, “There’s just not enough of the Air Force to go around.”
The non-military contractors would operate surveillance flights, not armed aircraft. However, senior defense chiefs announced that they need at least a little contractor involvement in order to accomplish the total of 90 war related air patrols daily.
The expansion raises questions about how the Pentagon will fund the extra patrols and how the various branches of the military will sort out and evaluate the rising torrent of statistics flowing in from the missions.