Pentagon may slow its buildup of drones

Military may have enough aircraft to wage wars of future, AF says
2013-02-12T00:00:00Z Pentagon may slow its buildup of dronesThe Associated Press The Associated Press
February 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. - The Pentagon is considering scaling back the massive buildup of drones it has overseen in the past few years, both to save money and to adapt to an increased focus on Asia as the Afghanistan war winds down.

Air Force leaders are saying the military may already have enough unmanned aircraft systems to wage the wars of the future. And the Pentagon's shift to Asia will require a new mix of drones and other aircraft because countries in that region are better able to detect unmanned versions and shoot them down.

If the Pentagon does slow the huge building and deployment program, which was ordered several years ago by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, it won't affect the CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere against terror suspects. Those strikes were brought center stage last week during the confirmation hearing for White House counterterror chief John Brennan as CIA director.

Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command, said senior leaders are analyzing drone needs. But he said the current number patrolling the skies overseas may already be more than the service can afford to maintain.

Pentagon spending on unmanned aircraft jumped from $284 million in 2000 to nearly $4 billion in the past fiscal year, while the number of drones owned by the Pentagon has rocketed from less than 200 in 2002 to at least 7,500 now. Most are small, shoulder-launched Ravens owned by the Army.

The discussions may trigger heated debate because drones have become so important to the military. They can provide 24-hour patrols over hotspots, gather intelligence by pulling in millions of terabytes of data and hours of video feeds, and they can also launch precisely targeted airstrikes without putting a pilot at risk.

The analysis began before Brennan's confirmation hearings, where he was questioned sharply about the CIA's use of drones to kill terror suspects, including American citizens overseas. The CIA has its own fleet of drones that it uses on its counterterror missions, and any decision to stop building drones would be unlikely to have any effect on that program.

The Air Force discussions are focused more on whether the military's drone fleet is the right size and composition for future conflicts.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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