Unmanned Planes A Key Tool In Iraq

January 2nd, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Unmanned Planes A Key Tool In Iraq

Philadelphia Inquirer
January 2, 2008 By Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The military's reliance on unmanned aircraft that can watch, hunt and sometimes kill insurgents has risen to more than 500,000 hours in the air, largely in Iraq, the Associated Press has learned.
New Defense Department figures obtained by the AP show that the Air Force more than doubled its monthly use of drones from January to October, forcing it to take pilots out of the air and shift them to remote-flying duty to meet part of the demand.
The dramatic increase in the development and use of drones across the armed services reflects what will be an even more aggressive effort over the next 25 years, according to a new report.
The jump in Iraq coincided with the buildup of U.S. forces last summer as the military swelled its ranks to quell the violence in Baghdad. But Pentagon officials said that even as troops begin to slowly come home, the use of Predators, Global Hawks, Shadows and Ravens is not likely to slow.
"I think right now the demand for the capability that the unmanned system provides is only increasing," said Col. Bob Quackenbush, deputy director for Army Aviation. "Even as the surge ends, I suspect the deployment of the unmanned systems will not go down, particularly for larger systems."
For some Air Force pilots, that means climbing out of the cockpit and heading to places such as Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where they can remotely fly the Predators, one of the larger and more sophisticated unmanned aircraft.
About 120 pilots recently were transferred to staff the drones to keep pace with demands, the Air Force said.
Some National Guard members also were called up to staff the flights. And more will do so in the coming months, as the Air Force adds bases where pilots can remotely fly the aircraft.
Locations include North Dakota, Texas, Arizona and California. Some already are operating.
One key reason for the increase is that U.S. forces in Iraq grew from 15 combat brigades to 20 last spring and summer, boosting troop totals from roughly 135,000 to more than 165,000.
Slowly over the next six months, five brigades are being pulled out of Iraq as part of a planned drawdown that began in December.
The increased military operations all across Iraq last summer triggered greater use of the drones and an escalating call for more of the systems - from the Pentagon's key hunter-killer, the Predator, to the surveillance Global Hawks and the smaller, cheaper Ravens.
In a recent example of what the aircraft can do, a Predator caught sight in November of three insurgents firing mortars at U.S. forces in Balad, Iraq. The drone fired an air-to-ground missile, killing the three, according to video footage the Air Force released.
Air Force officials said Predator flights steadily increased last year, from about 2,000 hours in January to more than 4,300 in October. They are expected to continue to escalate when hours are calculated for November and December, because the number of combat air patrols increased from about 14 per day to 18.
"The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department's ability to provide [these] assets," said Lt. Col. Larry Gurgainous, deputy director of the Air Force's unmanned-aircraft task force. "And as we buy and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up."
Use of the high-tech surveillance and reconnaissance Global Hawk also has jumped.
"I think it has to do with the type of warfare we're engaged in - it's heavy into intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance," Gurgainous said. "This war requires a lot of hunting high-value targets."
January 2nd, 2008  
To me, this is one of our greatest examples of the smart use of technology. It reduces casualties and the expenditure of taxpayers money, yet still allows us to keep the enemy on their toes. Aircraft can loiter in an area of interest for as long as they have fuel and weapons. Crew fatigue is almost non existent and time spent over the target is maximized, it's the way of the future.

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