April 20, 2007
By Michael Sirak
Senior representatives of the Army, Marine Corps and Navy yesterday sounded a joint chorus of opposition to the Air Force's proposal to oversee the development and procurement of larger classes of unmanned aircraft across the U.S. military.
"We are strongly opposed to the executive agent," Rear Adm. Bruce Clingan, deputy director for Air Warfare, told the House Armed Services Committee's Air and Land Subcommittee on April 19 during a hearing on Department of Defense intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) programs.
Brig. Gen. Randolph Alles, commanding general of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, echoed similar sentiments.
"Particularly in a counterinsurgency environment, we need ISR unmanned vehicle assets you can task and employ down to the squad level," he said. "Because of the need for decentralized execution, the Marine Corps opposes the idea of any one service to control the procurement or employment of these valuable assets."
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, deputy of the Acquisition and Systems Management Office within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, reiterated the concerns that the Army has made publicly since the Air Force's proposal surfaced last month.
"The Army," he said, "recommends that the Office of the Secretary of Defense uphold the 2005 JROC decision to use the Joint Unmanned Aircraft System Material Review Board and the Joint Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence in lieu of a single service executive agent."
The three officials were responding to questions from House lawmakers on Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Michael Moseley's proposal for the air service to be named the executive agent for medium- and high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that operate at altitudes higher than 3,500 feet (Defense Daily
, March 7, March 27, March 28 and April 2, April 16 and April 19).
"In one sentence, the intent of the [Air Force] chief's UAV executive agent proposal is to improve delivery of ISR information to America's joint warriors on the ground, at sea, and in the air while increasing jointness and achieving resource efficiencies," reads the statement provided to the subcommittee by Lt. Gen. David Deptula, deputy chief of staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance on the Air Staff, who also testified to the committee.
Having an executive agent would result in efficiencies by eliminating redundant efforts in areas like UAV development, training and logistics, Deptula said. The changes proposed under the Air Force's plan would also ensure that these classes of UAVs are integrated operationally in theater under the control of the joint/combined forces air component commander.
"In the case of medium- and high-altitude UAVs, those are assets that can move around the theater," Deptula explained. "What we would like to do is see them employed to the best extent possible to maximize that ISR delivery of information to users on the ground by putting them wherever they are needed most in performance of the joint force commanders' priorities and not tie them to a local position associated with a particular unit."
He continued: "We believe that UAVs that have a local effect and operate and provide information to units on the ground within tens of miles and operate below the coordination altitude in a theater should be the purview of individual units and organically operated.
"There are no Air Force targets in the combatant command," Deptula said. "They are joint force targets. What we want to do is optimize the ability of the joint force commander to use the capabilities of these resources and, in the medium- to high-altitude environment, they are low-density assets so we need to prioritize them."
But Clingan and Sorenson said these ideas sound like an infringement on the independence of tactical units.
"The integration of unmanned aerial vehicles into combat operations today underpins the effectiveness of maneuver units" as well as the risk associated with them accomplishing their objectives, Clingan said. "It would be like a ship requesting, 'May I have a radar tomorrow to accomplish my mission?'"
Sorenson voiced similar concerns.
"At the tactical level," he said, "this becomes a matter of risk, time and consequence for those that are currently in harm's way. I think in many cases the issue becomes...being able to respond quickly and decisively at the tactical level, in many cases to support the tactical commander."
But Deptula said the issue goes back to how the U.S. military operates in combat.
The individual services do not fight wars, he said. Rather a combatant command, headed by a joint force commander takes the capabilities that each service provides and then applies them in an appropriate mix and fashion to accomplish the warfighting objectives. Each service has unique expertise in their core competencies to contribute, he said.
Deptula said the Air Force's ultimate goal with the executive agent proposal is "to get medium- and high-altitude UAVs ISR distribution to be as transparent and joint as the [Global Positioning System] signal is to all of the services. GPS is 100 percent owned and operated by the Air Force, yet its effect has become so ubiquitous that it is depended upon by all of the services without any concern.
"We can do that with medium- and high-altitude UAVs," he said.
Joe Landon, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Command, Control, and Communication, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Information Technology Acquisition, said the Office of the Secretary of Defense recognizes that the UAV executive agent debate is a "significant issue."
Landon said Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) is going to take up the issue, as it did one time before in 2005.
"In order to get to the analysis that we need in order to make an informed decision, we are going to take a little time to go through that," he said.
After the hearing, Landon told Defense Daily
that since this is an organizational issue, its resolution is not tied to any budget cycle such as the upcoming FY'09 budget cycle.
Brig. Gen. Walt Davis, outgoing commander of the Joint Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence at Creech AFB, Nev., said his center will serve as the "training aid" for the Joint Staff and JROC as the issue is brought forward for discussion. Davis has been nominated to be the director of operational maneuver for Third U.S. Army at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.