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UAV turf wars.

* As a former Army unmanned air vehicle pilot and mission commander, I feel I must contribute my two cents to Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula's ideas on the philosophy of UAV operation and deployment. (Air Force to Army: There Are Better Ways to Deploy Surveillance Aircraft, January 2010).

It doesn't take much to read between the lines to see that Deptula's statements are based on a "turf-war," despite his comment to the contrary. His statements lead me to believe he does not understand the Army's philosophy or mission in utilization of UAV assets. He mentions utilizing a "joint approach"--that is exactly what the Army's brigade combat teams are doing by combining infantry, artillery armor and a UAV system into one team, as is the case with the brigade's Shadow UAS. They train together and they fight together. It's almost impossible to put valuation on that kind of joint training and, therefore, effectiveness.

Regarding a joint-service approach, that is how the Army's Hunter and Sky Warrior UAVs are utilized. Having been part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq utilizing the Hunter UAV, we would target one enemy emplacement with Air Force A-10s and another with Army Apaches or Marine Corps artillery. Post-combat operations, our missions came from the highest-levels coordinating across all military branches. Additionally, there is no downtime in UAV coverage when a brigade rotates out of theater. There is overlap to hand off the mission properly.

Deptula's statement that he believes flying UAVs from U.S. bases in split-operations is a dead-giveaway to his Air Force mindset: strategic vs. tactical.

The Air Force typically wants to build the biggest, fastest, highest flying aircraft they can and they'll get about 40 to 50 UAVs out of those specifications and funds. They Army wants to deploy UAV capability out to as many units as possible and will therefore get 250 UAVs out of the same money or less. The Army doesn't measure its aircraft speed or performance on the mach-meter (mach meter equals $$$). And yes, the Army may only have 78 Shadows deployed, but that is still 78. How many is the Air Force flying in theater? The last time I was flying UAVs in Iraq the airspace was saturated with UAVs.


Regarding the testing of Shadows using satcom, once again, Deptula just doesn't seem to understand the Army's mission in regards to UAV deployment. That's why that "dog and pony show" of flying a Shadow via satcom wasn't bought by the Army, which was destined for failure from the beginning.

In regard to the anonymous Air Force pilot's comments that Army commanders are not making best use of the equipment, does the Army really need a UAV that can fly at 40,000 feet, when the ones flying at 5,000 to 10,000 feet are working just fine at a fraction of the cost? Is it really that efficient for the Air Force to utilize officers, trained to fly C-130s, A- 10s, etc. when the Army is training privates and specialists (E-3s and E-4s) to do the same job? As a side note, this is also a source of contention with the Air Force because it simply makes them look bad when a private can do a captain's job.

The Air Force doesn't want to use a Shadow as a theater asset. It's not big enough, or doesn't have the endurance or payload capability it wants for a "theater asset." The whole debate stems from the fact that the Air Force wants the "UAV piece of the pie" because the insurgents' lack of an air force isn't justifying the need for F-22s and stealth fighters. It is the Air Force's conviction that if it is fixed-wing or "sexy" (as determined by the Pentagon) then they want it because that equals big dollars. And right now, unmanned-any-thing is very sexy to the Pentagon.

If Deptula wanted a greater understanding of how the Army wanted to utilize UAV assets, then perhaps he could gear up with a patrolling unit in Iraq and see why it's important for a brigade to have its own UAS with operators who are also trained in infantry and patrol tactics. Brigades need their own UAS, especially when Air Force Predators occasionally decide to re-task mid-mission because there is something sexier going on in the adjacent kill-box.

Byron Graham

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Title Annotation:READERS'FORUM
Author:Graham, Byron
Publication:National Defense
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Mar 1, 2010
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