Magazine article National Defense

Air Force, Air Guard Could Double Drone Fleet

Magazine article National Defense

Air Force, Air Guard Could Double Drone Fleet

Article excerpt

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* The Air Force is seeking to nearly double its fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles by 2011.

Its goal is to operate 212 unmanned drones by 2011, up from the current 137.

The Air Force currently has 110 Predators, 20 Reapers and seven Global Hawks.

The Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV system that performs reconnaissance missions and can shoot Hellfire missiles. The Reaper is a medium-to-high altitude, long endurance unmanned aircraft that is much larger and more heavily armed than the Predator. The Global Hawk is a high altitude, long-range drone used mainly for surveillance.

The Air Force wants to expand its fleet as quickly as possible, Air Force officials said. This includes purchasing ground control stations and training the required crews. The goal is to train up to 1,100 pilots to fly unmanned drones over Iraq and Afghanistan from a base in Nevada.

"In the next few years we're purchasing aircraft about one-third of which are unmanned," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz.

New UAV operators will learn the rudiments of flying a small manned plane, but will not undergo the more rugged training that fighter pilots receive.

The push for more personnel to fly unmanned equipment is a result of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' criticism of the Air Force for not providing sufficient surveillance support to ground commanders.

The Air National Guard is also seeking to increase its fleet of unmanned drones. It's goal is to receive more than 55 Predators and Reapers by 2011 and to allocate more than 1,600 personnel to that mission by 2009. The numbers are subject to change as the war progresses and as technology advances.

The Air National Guard said it is also engaged in recruiting additional personnel as new UAV units are activated, but that it has been a hurdle. …

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