Air Force, Army Clash Again On Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

October 30th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Air Force, Army Clash Again On Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

The Hill
October 30, 2007 By Roxana Tiron
The Air Force and Army are again clashing over the control of high-flying drones, despite a Pentagon decision last month that no single service would own and operate those aircraft.
Gen. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, and his cadre of legislative officers have been urging lawmakers to give the Air Force control of all medium- and high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a move strongly opposed by the Army, Marine Corps and Navy. In particular, the Air Force has been pressing lawmakers recently to reject a provision in the Senate defense appropriations bill added by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) that would prohibit the transfer of research and development, acquisition or program authority of tactical UAVs from the Army, according to Pentagon and congressional sources.
Shelby’s language would also ensure that the Army would retain operational control over and responsibility for the Extended Range Multi-Purpose UAV. That drone is known as the Sky Warrior, a system that is still in development and has been in the Air Force’s crosshairs. The Air Force flies and favors the Predator UAV.
Both drones are built by General Atomics. While similar in capability, the Army contends the Sky Warrior is better suited for the service’s mission. The Air Force contends that, as the executive agency, it would ensure the UAVs operate compatible command and control systems.
The Air Force has been pushing to become the executive agency for all drones flying above 3,500 feet since 2005, but brought its fight to Capitol Hill earlier this year.
So far, the service has not had much success. Lawmakers in large part have left the decision of whether there should be an executive agency to the Pentagon.
The UAV executive agency would control budget and acquisition plans for medium- and high-altitude drones.
On Sept. 13, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England weighed in on what had become an acrimonious battle between the Air Force and the three other services by establishing a task force to resolve critical issues and foster better coordination among the military branches.
England also directed the Joint Requirements Oversight Council to coordinate training and operations for UAVs.
At the same time, the deputy defense secretary decided that the Army’s Sky Warrior UAV program and the Air Force’s Predator UAV program should be consolidated into a single program.
Moseley has said that he is “not unhappy” with England’s decision. But he also hinted that the issue was not yet resolved.
“This is the first of a set of baby steps,” he was quoted in news reports as saying after the Pentagon’s decision. Since then, the Air Force has distributed documents on Capitol Hill explaining why it still believes it should be the executive agency.
In a Department of Defense appeal document to congressional appropriators, the Pentagon urged the rescission of Shelby’s provision, arguing that it “infringes” on the Pentagon’s acquisition authority and limits the Joint Forces commander’s ability to meet overall mission requirements.
Army officials have complained that they never vetted the appeals document, as is typically done before such documents are sent to Congress, according to a Pentagon official. The official added the document contained language crafted by the Air Force.
Army supporters subsequently complained on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon. The result has been new compromise language crafted by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Air Force that would endorse England’s decision not to create an executive agency and his decision to consolidate the Army’s Sky Warrior and the Air Force’s Predator into a single program.
The Army should also be able to start procuring the Sky Warrior for its units by the end of 2008. That language is now under consideration by Senate and House appropriators.
The Army wants to see Shelby’s language stay as part of the 2008 defense appropriations bill, according to officials and congressional sources. Shelby said he plans to continue to press for the language he inserted.
“I remain committed to supporting the UAV language contained in the bill for the last the years,” Shelby said in a statement to The Hill.
“With the Army conducting the vast majority of UAV operations in Iraq, it is imperative that control of UAV assets is kept with the battlefield commander to ensure that these assets are readily available to our troops who are deploying them for tactical missions.”
Fort Rucker in Shelby’s home state of Alabama is the Army’s primary UAV Center of Excellence, which ensures that doctrine and training techniques are in line with integrating the drones on the battlefield.
At Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. — where most of the Army’s UAV work is managed — more than 250 people are connected with the UAV programs, bringing $66 million into the local economy, according to several reports.
Shelby, though, could run into some resistance in the House, where lawmakers are more supportive of the Air Force and Defense Department compromise, a congressional source said.
Meanwhile, Moseley said that he and Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, are planning to meet to discuss the issue of UAVs and try to find common ground.
The Air Force has been concerned that there are about 1,000 drones in the war zones and that most of them do not have compatible control and data systems.
The Air Force has argued that if it becomes the executive agency for drones it would save the Pentagon up to $1.7 billion. That assertion, however, has prompted criticism from the other services, which have noted that the Air Force has had cost overruns on its own UAV programs.
The Air Force’s case does have supporters on the Hill. Those include Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who has argued that an executive agency would eliminate duplication and waste.
Repeated calls to the Air Force were not answered by press time.

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