Strategy Page has an interesting article about the Army’s newest Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, the MQ-1C Grey Eagle, and how it is about to enter service in the War on Terror.
December 24, 2010: The U.S. Army is now receiving UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) similar to those used by the air force, but flown under different conditions, by a quite different type of crew.
The MQ-1C differs only slightly from the earlier MQ-1`Predators that the Air Force has been operating for about 15 years. The primary differences will be in the operational philosophy. First, Army UAVs are operated by NCOs, whereas all Air Force UAVs are operated by rated pilots. This is mostly an institutional bias on the part of the Air Force. The Army has demonstrated for many years that Warrant Officers can operate aircraft, and for several years that NCOs make perfectly acceptable UAV operators.
The other big difference is that while the Air Force has centralized all UAV operations, the Army is taking a decentralized approach. Currently, when an Air Force Predator or Reaper is launched on a mission, a pilot forward deployed to the operating base will handle the take-off and landing, but the rest of the mission is flown via satellite control from Nevada. This centralization of operations has its advantages, especially in terms of making training and operations scheduling easier.
But the Army plans to have it operators forward deployed, generally with the brigade each Grey Eagle company is to support.
That’s really the heart of the issue. In the linked article, you’ll see one of the commenters, Xun Zi, making pretty passionate attack on the Grey Eagle program, talking about all the wonderful things the Air Force has done with their Predators, and how they have done a great job of providing years of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). And they have. But that’s beside the point. The point is, when the Air Force is operating its Predators, they take input from the supported units, and then fly where they think best. With an organic UAV company, the brigade commander can make certain that those areas of interest to him will have a Grey Eagle overhead. And it isn’t an either/or situation. You can be sure that the Air Force and the Army will continue to operate UAVs side by side in every theater where troops are deployed. The two services often take a slightly different emphasis on which intelligence is of higher priority. The Air Force has concentrated on long term surveillance to detect trends. The Army commander is often as not more immediately concerned with that is going on right now. To pull a UAV from one mission to the other degrades both mission. With Grey Eagles and Predators/Reapers operating side by side, both missions can be pursued more capably.