A decade ago, as the U.S. military scrambled to gear up for unexpectedly lengthy wars, the Air Force declared that it should oversee all Pentagon drones that flew higher than 3,500 feet. Its argument was simple: these new weapons were being developed and purchased in tremendous quantity and significant diversity. Without a single controlling agency, the thinking went, the various services’ drones might waste money, fight poorly together, or even blunder into the path of another service’s manned aircraft.
The Air Force lost that battle when Army and Navy leaders teamed up to block what they saw as an epic power grab, and today’s leaders say they have no desire to refight it. But with the U.S. military once again preparing to drastically expand its drone presence, some say it’s time to think about putting high-flying UAVs under one organizational roof.
“There needs to be someone with oversight that is actually pulling together and assuring the interdependency of the systems that each of the individual services are developing,” said David Deptula, a retired lieutenant general who oversaw the Air Force’s drone and intelligence operations and pushed for a single-service executive agent. “That would go a long way to solving many of the challenges that exist in terms of providing sufficient capability to meet the demand that’s out there for UAVs.”
Dave Deptula is an very bright guy. But he’s also highly partisan toward the Air Force. And he’s wrong. The reason the Army has even bothered fielding their own variant of the Predator is that they haven’t been getting what they want from the Air Force. Shoving Army UAV ops under the Air Force isn’t going to solve that problem.
And the Air Force is certainly not equipped technically or doctrinally to take over the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance mission the Navy sees for its MQ-4C Triton UAVs.