Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Army, SOCOM to take on daily drone missions

Army, SOCOM to take on daily drone missions: The Pentagon will significantly expand the number of daily drone sorties conducted around the globe during the next several years and will for the first time expand the mission beyond the Air Force, a defense official said.

The plan reflects a high-level recognition that the Air Force's remotely piloted vehicle fleet can no longer meet the forcewide demand for combat air patrols flown by drone pilots, mainly due to severe pilot shortages.

"Demand exceeds supply in this type of mission," Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday.

The new plan aims to ratchet up the number of daily drone flights from the current level of about 60 each day to 90 by 2019, a goal that will affect long-term planning for budgets and manpower, Davis said.

The Air Force's drone fleet will maintain its current requirement of 60 daily combat air patrols, Davis said. The Army will assume responsibility for between 10 and 20 daily sorties; U.S. Special Operations Command will provide 10 drone flights per day; and contractors will handle up to 10 additional flights, Davis said.

Any sorties conducted by contractors would have to be unarmed, Davis said.